The Role Of Cognitive Executive Functions In Individuals With Mediumistic Abilities

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Chris Connelly& David Vernon1 
1School of Psychology, Politics & Sociology 
Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 1QU, UK 

Introduction: The claims of Spiritualist mediums to ostensibly communicate with the deceased have been a topic of research and debate for over 128 years, notably leading to the formation of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in 1882 and followed by the formation of other leading parapsychological societies (e.g., Parapsychological Association and Society for Scientific Exploration) around the world to examine and explore this issue (Alvarado, 2002; Irwin, 2014). Historically, most investigations with Spiritualist mediums have been proof-focused (Rock & Beischel,2008) exploring whether the claims of discarnate survival by mediums is tenable. With a growing body of evidence suggesting that the accuracy of the information received by mediums from an alleged discarnate personality is often considered highly relevant by the intended recipient of the communication (Beischel & Schwartz, 2007; Roy & Robertson, 2001; Sarraf et al., 2020; Schwartz, Geoffrion, Jain, Lewis, & Russek, 2003). A second approach is that of process-focused research (Rock & Beischel, 2008) which is an area gaining more attention and involves the researcher shifting the emphasis away from the direct evidential approach of ‘can’ discarnate information be obtained to ask ‘how’ this information is obtained and what cognitive processes are involved?

With this in mind a study was conducted to explore what, if any, cognitive executive functions mediums report using during the demonstration of alleged communication with a discarnate personality. Executive functions is a term used to encompass a set of higher-order cognitive processes considered necessary for the normal day to day functioning of individuals in their pursuit to achieve a desired goal (Cristofori et al., 2019) and are essential for healthy cognitive, social and psychological development (Lunt et al., 2012). Arguably, these higher-order functions may also be necessary for the task of ‘mediumship’ that necessitates a focused awareness by the medium of their internal sensory stimuli, ostensibly from a discarnate personality, while simultaneously inhibiting potentially distracting internal thoughts and external information (Stanford,1993). This idea is supported by Braud (1975) who suggested the need for participants in studies exploring psi-conducive states to have significant executive functioning ability to intentionally reduce sensory noise processing while increasing awareness of their internal processes and feelings. However, at present there are no known studies that have specifically explored this area.

Understanding which components of executive functions may be important in mediumistic communication will help to shed light on the specific cognitive processes involved and in turn will lead to a better understanding of the phenomenon. In addition, such information may be used to explore whether mediums exhibit distinct differences in such exectuive functions compared to non-mediums and then whether training to enhance such executive funcitons could improve and enhance the communicative bridge between the medium and the discarnate personality.  

Methods: Seventeen internationally recognized mediums from across the UK, US, Australia, and Germany, each holding accreditation from Spiritualists’ organizations such as the Spiritualists’ National Union and the National Spiritualist Association of Churches were approached and agreed to participate in the study. In the first stage each medium was provided with information regarding the aims and objectives of the study and asked to complete a demographic questionnaire, before providing informed consent. At the second stage each medium was invited to participate in a semi-structured interview which was recorded. During the interview the medium was given an opportunity to explain the mental processes they used to obtain a connection with a discarnate personality and their procedure for maintaining that connection so as to obtain evidential communication for a recipient. The audio from each interview was transcribed and imported into NVIVO software, where the content of the interview text was compared between mediums. Using a thematic analysis approach (Braun & Clarke, 2006) relevant sections of the text was coded to allow themes to be generated and analyzed relating to the possible role executive functions may play in the demonstration of mediumistic communication.  

Results:  Data is currently being analyzed and results will be presented at conference. 

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Schwartz, G. E., Geoffrion, S., Jain, S., Lewis, S., & Russek, L. G. (2003). Evidence of anomalous information retrieval between two mediums: Replication in a double-blind design. Journal-Society for Psychical Research, 67, 115–130. 

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Chris Connelly
Chris Connelly

Chris has over 30 years as a research engineer, working in the UK Space industry where he is responsible for the development of imaging technologies used on Earth observation missions. Chris holds Masters degrees in Engineering and in Psychology, and is currently pursuing a doctorate at Canterbury Christ Church University under the supervision of Dr David Vernon, where he is exploring the role of cognitive executive functions within mediumship.

The Role Of Cognitive Executive Functions In Individuals With Mediumistic Abilities


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