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American Society for Psychical Research

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Title: American Society for Psychical Research  
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Subject: Parapsychology, Mina Crandon, James H. Hyslop, William James, Society for Psychical Research
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American Society for Psychical Research

American Society for Psychical Research
Abbreviation ASPR
Formation 1884
Legal status Non-profit organization
Purpose Parapsychology
Region served North America
Membership Psychical researchers
Main organ Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research
Affiliations Society for Psychical Research
Website ASPR

The American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) is an organisation dedicated to parapsychology based in New York, where it maintains offices and a library. It is open to interested members of the public to join, and has a website. It also publishes the quarterly Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research.[1]


G. Stanley Hall an early ASPR member.

The American Society for Psychical Research was founded in 1884 in Boston, Massachusetts. Among other founding members were the psychologists G. Stanley Hall, James Mark Baldwin, Joseph Jastrow, and Christine Ladd-Franklin.[2] Among the first vice Presidents were Hall, William James and the philosopher Josiah Royce. The mathematician Simon Newcomb was the first President.[3] The early members of the society were skeptical of paranormal phenomena.[4] Hall and Jastrow took a psychological approach to psychical phenomena. By 1890 they had resigned from the society.[2] Hall and Jastrow became outspoken critics of parapsychology.[5] Other early members from the society including Morton Prince and James Jackson Putnam left the ASPR in 1892 to form the American Psychological Association.[6]

Richard Hodgson joined the ASPR in 1887 to serve as its secretary.[7] In 1889 a financial crisis forced the ASPR to become a branch of the Society for Psychical Research, and Simon Newcomb and others left.[8] It achieved independence once more in 1906.[9]

Following the death of Richard Hodgson in 1905, Leonora Piper. After evaluating sixty-nine reports of Piper's mediumship William James considered the hypothesis of telepathy as well as Piper obtaining information about her sitters by natural means such as her memory recalling information. According to James the "spirit-control" hypothesis of her mediumship was incoherent, irrelevant and in cases demonstrably false.[10] However, G. Stanley Hall believed Piper's mediumship had an entirely naturalistic explanation and no telepathy was involved. Hall and his student Amy Tanner, who observed some of the trances, explained the phenomena in terms of the subconscious mind harboring various personalities that pretended to be spirits or controls. In their view, Piper had subconsciously absorbed information that she later regurgitated as messages from "spirits" in her trances.[11]

On June 20, 1906, the ASPR had 170 members and by the end of November 1907, it had 677.[12] Hereward Carrington became a member of the ASPR in 1907 and an assistant to James Hyslop until 1908, during which time he established his reputation as an ASPR investigator. However his connection with the ASPR ceased due to lack of funds.[12] Carrington was the author the book The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism which exposed the tricks of fraudulent mediums.[13] According to Arthur Conan Doyle, Carrington was not popular with spiritualists.[14]

James Hyslop died in 1920, and immediately strife broke out between the membership as the Society divided into two factions, one broadly pro-Spiritualism, indeed often Spiritualists, and the other 'conservative' faction favoring telepathy and skeptical of 'discarnate spirits' as an explanation for the phenomena studied, or simply skeptical of the phenomena's existence.[15] In 1923 a prominent Spiritualist, Frederick Edwards, was appointed President, and the conservative faction led by Gardner Murphy and Walter Franklin Prince declared that the Society was becoming less academic.[16] In the same year the ASPR lost 108 members.[17] New members joined the society and William McDougall a past President and Prince both became alarmed at the number of "credulous spiritualists" that joined the ASPR.[18]

In 1925 Edwards was reappointed President, and his support of the mediumistic claims of 'Margery' (Mina Crandon) led to the 'conservative' faction leaving and forming the rival Boston Society for Psychical Research in May, 1925. From this point on the ASPR remained highly sympathetic to Spiritualism until 1941, when the Boston Society for Psychical Research was reintegrated into the ASPR.[15]

Splinter group

The Boston Society for Psychical Research (BSPR) was founded in April 1925 by former research officer Walter Franklin Prince of the American Society for Psychical Research, many of whom were alarmed by the ASPR support for the purported medium Margery (Mina Crandon) and suppressing any reports unfavorable to her.[15]

Joseph Banks Rhine claimed to have observed Crandon in fraud in a séance in 1926. According to Rhine during the séance she was free from control and kicked a megaphone to give the impression it was levitating.[19] Rhine's report that documented the fraud was refused by the ASPR, so he published in it in the Journal of Abnormal Social Psychology. In response, defenders of Crandon attacked Rhine. Arthur Conan Doyle published an article in a Boston Newspaper claiming "J. B. Rhine is an Ass."[19]

There was a significant split in the history of American psychical research: the American Society for Psychical Research had become dominated by those sympathetic to Harry Houdini worked with the group. BSPR investigators were involved in the uncovering of the alleged fraud of Mina Crandon—including a number of revelations often credited to Harry Houdini, but actually discovered by other BSPR members. In 1923, Prince described the Crandon case as "the most ingenious, persistent, and fantastic complex of fraud in the history of psychic research."[20] The BSPR fell into obscurity following exposure of Mina Crandon, and was formally reincorporated into the American Society for Psychical Research in 1941.[21]

In 1934 the BSPR published Extrasensory Perception[22] by their member Joseph Banks Rhine, who introduced the term ESP to English, and the methodology of modern parapsychology, with its quantitative research and laboratory based approach, as distinct from the older psychical research.

See also


  1. ^ American Society for Psychical Research website
  2. ^ a b Wade Pickren, Alexandra Rutherford. (2010). A History of Modern Psychology in Context. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-470-27609-9
  3. ^ Eugene Taylor. (2009). The Mystery of Personality: A History of Psychodynamic Theories. Springer. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-387-98103-1
  4. ^ John Melton. (1996). Psychical Research in Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology. Gale Group. ISBN 978-0-8103-9486-5
  5. ^ Paul Kurtz. A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology. Prometheus Books. p. 551. ISBN 978-0-87975-300-9
  6. ^ Steven Ward. (2002). Modernizing the Mind: Psychological Knowledge and the Remaking of Society. pp. 43–44. ISBN 978-0-275-97450-3
  7. ^ Rosemary Guiley. (1994). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. Guinness Publishing. p. 164. ISBN 978-0-85112-748-4
  8. ^ Deborah Blum. (2006). Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-303895-5
  9. ^ a b Seymour Mauskopf. (1982). Psychical Research in America in Ivor Grattan-Guinness Psychical Research: A Guide to Its History, Principles & Practices. Aquarian Press. ISBN 978-0-85030-316-2
  10. ^ Francesca Bordogna. (2008). William James at the Boundaries: Philosophy, Science, and the Geography of Knowledge. University Of Chicago Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-226-06652-3
  11. ^ Amy Tanner. (1910). Studies in Spiritism. New York: Appleton.
  12. ^ a b Arthur Berger. (1988). Lives and Letters in American Parapsychology: A Biographical History, 1850–1987. McFarland & Company. pp. 51–55 ISBN 978-0-89950-345-5
  13. ^ Hereward Carrington. (1907). The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism. Herbert B. Turner & Co.
  14. ^ Massimo Polidoro. (2001). Final Séance: The Strange Friendship Between Houdini and Conan Doyle. Prometheus Books. p. 143. ISBN 978-1-57392-896-0
  15. ^ a b c Clément Chéroux. (2005). The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-11136-1
  16. ^ Rosemary Guiley. (1994). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. Guinness Publishing. pp. 48–50. ISBN 978-0-85112-748-4
  17. ^ David Hess. (1993). Science In The New Age: The Paranormal, Its Defenders & Debunkers, (Science & Literature). University of Wisconsin Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-299-13824-0 "A sharp divide between Spiritualists and psychical researchers had already occurred in 1923, when pro-Spiritualist forces gained control of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR), ousted President William McDougall, and demoted Hyslop's chosen successor, the psychologist Walter Franklin Prince, who resigned in 1925. The ASPR lost 108 members in 1923, and the controversy over the claimed physical effects of the medium named "Margery" sealed the division."
  18. ^ Robert Laurence Moore. (1977). In Search of White Crows: Spiritualism, Parapsychology, and American Culture. Oxford University Press. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-19-502259-9
  19. ^ a b Massimo Polidoro. (2001). Final Séance: The Strange Friendship Between Houdini and Conan Doyle. Prometheus Books. pp. 202–203. ISBN 978-1-57392-896-0
  20. ^ C. E. M. Hansel. (1989). The Search for Psychic Power: ESP and Parapsychology Revisited. Prometheus Books. p. 245. ISBN 978-0-87975-533-1
  21. ^ Thomas Tietze. (1973). Margery. Harper & Row. ISBN 978-0-06-068235-4
  22. ^ Joseph Banks Rhine. (1934) Extra-Sensory Perception. Boston: Boston Society for Psychic Research.

Further reading

  • Georgess McHargue. (1972). Facts, Frauds, and Phantasms: A Survey of the Spiritualist Movement. Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-05305-1
  • Robert Laurence Moore. (1977). In Search of White Crows: Spiritualism, Parapsychology, and American Culture. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-502259-9
  • Richard Wiseman. (1997). Deception & Self-Deception: Investigating Psychics. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1-57392-121-3
  • Robert Charles Powell. (1980) James Hervey Hyslop (1854-1920) and the American Institute for Scientific Research, 1904-1934: An Attempt toward the Coordinated Study of Psychopathology and Psychical Phenomena. in Essays in the History of Psychiatry, A Tenth Anniversary Supplementary Volume to the Psychiatric Forum, pp.161-171. The American Society for Psychical Research, under Hyslop, was “Section B” of the American Institute for Scientific Research; a psychiatric clinic was “Section A”.

External links

  • ASPR home page
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