Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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The scientific study of psychic phenomena.

The term was first popularized by J. B. Rhine at Duke University. During the 1930s, Rhine standardized the nomenclature and techniques within the field of parapsychology by having subjects guess at symbols on a specially designed deck of cards and statistically analyzing the results. Later, Rhine verified to his satisfaction that some humans could mentally influence physical events, such as dice scores, a phenomenon termed psychokinesis . Although other researchers replicated Rhine's results, it became apparent that psychic phenomena were not easy to elicit. After decades of research, Rhine and other parapsychologists concluded that psychic phenomena were real, that certain internal statistical variations were associated with their occurrence, and that various attitudes and personality traits were related to their detection. Although controversy surrounds these conclusions, the Parapsychological Association, established in 1957, was admitted as an affiliate to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1969. Modern parapsychologists use sophisticated computerized methods to ensure randomization of extrasensory targets and to reduce the possibility of fraud.

James McClenon


R. S. Broughton, Parapsychology (New York: Ballantine, 1991)

J. McClenon, Deviant Science (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984).

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