Self-proclaimed mediums – people who believe they can talk to the dead – have been documented for millennia throughout human history, and this practice has continued into the modern day. With many mediums charging high fees to supposedly deliver the words of dead loved ones, the field has been met with intense scrutiny. With the most notable skeptic being the television magician James Randi, who offered $1 million for any psychic to scientifically verify their paranormal claims, many professional psychics have tried and failed to show there is truth in mediumship.
Now, researchers from the Institute of Noetic Science, California, and the University of California San Diego have put more mediums to the test – and the results are not a good look for the profession. Their findings were published in the journal Brain and Cognition.
Taking 12 professional mediums and 12 normal people, the researchers aimed to see whether mediums did in fact have a connection to the dead that could allow them to understand their cause of death better than the average person. All participants were shown 180 memorial images of deceased individuals, before being asked how the person died. Throughout the tests, the participants had their heart rate and brain activity monitored.
Theoretically, if mediums have a link to the realm of the dead, they should correctly identify the cause of death more often than the controls, who were essentially guessing. Surprisingly, however, the mediums actually performed worse.
When the controls were guessing the cause of death, the group performed better than random chance, with a 4% increase over what the researchers expected if they just clicked the buttons at random. However, the mediums managed to perform worse than the chance value, with a decrease of 0.2%.
Furthermore, the mediums took longer on average to answer the questions, particularly on questions that they got incorrect.
The results of both the brain and heart rate monitoring also showed some differences. Throughout the test, the mediums maintained a higher average heart rate (averaging almost 10 beats per minute higher). The authors suggest that it is possible the mediums were more stressed during testing than the controls.
In the electroencephalogram (EEG) results that analyzed brain activity whilst the participants looked at the photos, there were also some differences in which areas the participants focused on.
Within the brains of the control subjects, there appeared to be more activity in the visual processing region of the brain (the occipital lobe) than the mediums. The researchers suggest that the controls dedicated more attention to analyzing the appearance of the photographs, although differences in brain activity were not significantly linked to more correct answers.
So how could the controls perform better than people that claim to actually directly contact the dead? The simplest answer is that the mediums’ claims are unfounded, and contacting the dead may not be possible after all.
However, when asked about their experiences, some mediums explained there may have been a different reason.
“Some of the mediums commented that they found it difficult to differentiate between the type of death, as they reported feeling the pain of the deceased individual, but not the cause of that pain,” the authors write.
“They might have interpreted a given type of pain as a heart attack, but a similar pain could have occurred by being shot in the chest, or by chest trauma associated with a car accident.”
Whether you accept their reasoning or not, these particular findings suggest mediums may not be the paranormal contacts they advertise themselves to be, despite the field being notoriously difficult to research. The researchers now hope to take the feedback and, alongside increasing the time to answer each question, fully illuminate whether mediums are the real deal, or just looking to cash-in on hard times.