Is there anybody there? Not when scientists tested the powers of mediums who claim to receive messages from beyond the grave in controlled experimental conditions.
Psychologists Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire and Ciaran O’Keeffe of Liverpool Hope University put five mediums to the test while ensuring they did not cheat or use psychological tricks. They found that none were able to produce accurate readings for people who were isolated in a separate room.
Prof Wiseman said: “We tested five professional mediums, all of whom make their living from this kind of thing _ and none of them were accurate. I think these people are not frauds, but there’s a whole lot of processes people take to mediumistic readings. You can give away information just by nodding or shaking your head.”
The two scientists wanted to repeat previous research from the University of Arizona that suggested mediums could supply accurate information for people from deceased friends and relatives. They contacted the Spiritualists’ National Union and asked for five mediums with good track records at providing readings by proxy – in which they never meet the person or “sitter” they are producing a reading for.
Each medium was placed in a studio while the sitters sat out of sight and earshot in another room. Taking each sitter – male staff or students from the University of Hertfordshire – in turn, all five mediums attempted to give them readings. “They’d say ‘Oh, I’ve got someone here, he’s a man, he’s got a limp, he’s about 50, I’m getting the name grandfather and he said you were always a good little boy’,” Prof Wiseman said.
“But when the comments were recorded, jumbled up, and then played back in random order, none of the sitters recognised their own readings.”
“I think mediums may have their uses. They’re cheaper than psychotherapists, and they might help people with bereavement, but they don’t communicate with the dead.”
He added that he expected believers to criticise the experiment, but said this was the best test of the abilities of mediums carried out so far.
A spokesperson for the Spiritualists’ National Union could not be contacted.