Evaluating Psychic Readings

Part I

Douglas G. Richards, Ph.D.

As part of the February, 1998 "Edgar Cayce Legacy Intuitive Training and Psychic Development" conference, each participant received readings from two psychics out of a group of 11. One of our research goals was to explore the ways in which people evaluate readings, as a step toward developing a system of quality control in psychic training.

The evaluation of psychic readings depends a lot on people's expectations. What did the people at the conference expect from their readings? Our questionnaire asked about 11 possible expectations, with a 5-point rating scale from "Not important at all" to "Very important." The participants rated the three most important items as, "The psychic perceives aspects of your self that you are not consciously aware of, but that make sense when you hear them," "The psychic tunes into you personally," and "The psychic is warm and empathetic." The emphasis, then, was on the psychic making a personal connection with the client.

The expectations rated least important were, "The psychic tunes into outside events (world events, etc.)," "The psychic provides specific and accurate information about present events," and "The psychic tunes into other people with whom you have relationships." We can conclude that people had far less interest in outside events than they did about their personal concerns. There was a concern about relationships, but it was more in terms of the effect on the client, not the other people.

These expectations are consistent with the theme of Edgar Cayce's work. He emphasized helping individuals. Although there are a very small number of readings dealing with world affairs and earth changes, the vast majority provided immediately helpful advice.

With these expectations, what did people think of the readings they received? They were generally quite pleased. On a 1-9 scale of overall quality, the average score was about 8. They felt that their psychics did best in the areas of "providing advice," "inspirational tone," "valuable insight," and "tuning into you personally." These are very similar to the areas in which the people had the highest expectations. They felt that the psychics did worst in the areas of "providing information," "specificity," and "accuracy." These areas were still rated relatively highly, however, averaging about 7.5 on the 9-point scale.

We took a closer look at specificity and accuracy by asking the participants to estimate the number of "evidential" items in the reading. These are statements so specific and accurate they could only be the result of psychic perception. Edgar Cayce, for example, commented at the beginning of reading 3904-1, "What funny paintings!" This person later confirmed that there were unusual wall decorations. It is clear evidence of psychic functioning - Cayce had never seen the person's house, yet gave an accurate description. Not surprisingly, the number of evidential statements in our project was not especially high; it ranged from 0 to 30, with an average of 5.1. But the Cayce readings, too, often have few evidential statements, and much wise advice. These few statements are enough to convince people that there is a true psychic connection. They were not the most important factor in the rating of overall quality, but they played a significant role.

In the next Friends of Research newsletter, we will look at other factors influencing the evaluation of readings. Evaluating Psychic Readings: Part II Douglas G. Richards, Ph.D.

As part of the February, 1998 "Intuitive Training and Psychic Development" conference, each participant received readings from two psychics out of a group of 11. One of our research goals was to explore the ways in which people evaluate readings, as a step toward developing a system of quality control in psychic training. In the previous Friends of Research newsletter, we looked at how people's expectations influenced their evaluations of readings. Clearly the conference participants considered their readings to be of high quality, but how do we know that these evaluations were not simply wishful thinking? After all, if a psychic tells you, "You are a wonderful, intelligent person," you are likely to feel that the psychic is connecting directly with you. The skeptical hypothesis is that psychics simply provide a set of general positive statements that could apply to anyone. Naturally, people would rate them highly. This is called the "Barnum Effect," after showman P. T. Barnum, who said, "A good circus has something for everyone." Psychologists have studied the Barnum effect by putting together a set of vague personality statements that sound a little bit like a psychic reading. One example is, "While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them." We used a personality questionnaire made up of Barnum statements, and asked people to rate how closely each statement applied to them.

We found that there was no relationship at all between high ratings of these general statements and high ratings of psychic readings. As we found in earlier projects (see February/March, 1998, New Millennium), people are generally quite critical of vague statements in readings. This result is very encouraging for our rating system for reading quality.

Another piece of information that suggests that the participants were objectively rating the psychics is that there was no correlation between the ratings for the first and second psychic readings, from two different psychics. That is, the raters were not simply responding with their overall bias, but considered their readings individually.

Perhaps the most important question one might ask of a psychic reading is, "Did it help change a person's life?" We had the people fill out the "Purpose in Life Scale" at the beginning and end of the week. This scale measures the degree to which the person has found a meaningful purpose in life. On the average, there was a 6.5 point improvement in the scale. This is less than the 17-point improvement for the Fall, 1997 conference reported in the February/March 1998 New Millennium. But the purpose of the two conferences was different. The people in the fall conference came for life guidance, and spent the week analyzing dreams and discussing life purpose, in addition to receiving psychic readings. They started with an average score of 99. This group, on the other hand, came for the purpose of psychic development, and started with a score of 113. They arrived at the conference with a greater sense of meaningful purpose. Receiving psychic readings increased this sense of purpose even more.

We have learned from this research that people training in intuitive perception can also evaluate psychic readings relatively objectively. This will help in developing a system of quality control for psychic training.