The most frequent limitation in mediumship research relates to the challenge of accurately “scoring” statements communicated from “spirit”. One common type of scoring problem relates to the “Barnum Effect”
The “Barnum Effect” is a psychological concept that indicates that people tend to rate general personality statements as highly accurate. This means that a statement like, “you tend to shy away from being the centre of attention” could be frequently scored as relevant to the sitter when indeed this general statement could be relevant for a majority of the population.
The scoring tool developed by Metaphysics Research (D onna Smith-Moncrieffe, 2011) mitigates this problem. A general statement that could relate to many others can only receive a low score. This low score does not mean that the Medium’s statement is inaccurate; it just means that the statement is not specific enough to warrant “enough evidence” on the area of study being tested. Only specific statements that are directly related to the sitter are given higher scores.
Another limitation in mediumship studies relates to the fact that only the sitter can verify the accuracy of the information. The researchers need to rely on self-reported information to verify the statements being shared between the Medium and the sitter. Due to the sensitive nature of some of this transmitted information, sitters may opt to alter or openly disagree with the information shared. We witnessed a case where a woman attended a family group reading to attempt to have contact with her recently departed husband. During this reading a discarnate (“spirit”) revealed that the daughter (who was also present at the reading) had a serious drug problem. The Medium identified the name of the daughter, the type of drugs being consumed and reported the cause for the chronic drug use. While in the presence of her family, the daughter vehemently denied the accuracy of this information. During the follow-up with members of the group reading, the daughter was able to confirm that all of the information communicated by the Medium about the drug use was indeed true. The daughter wanted to reveal the truth to the researcher as she wanted to confirm the accuracy of the statements and shared that she was still not comfortable with her family knowing about her drug abuse problems. Researchers and Mediums know that sitters may not always be ready to face the information shared from spirit and this affects the accuracy of the scores and the overall validity of the findings.
Another limitation related to building the evidence about “survival of consciousness” is sitters and their families don’t necessarily know everyone “in spirit”. Not knowing all of your extended family members limits your ability to verify statements communicated by the Medium. When information related to a discarnate is not verified, this result could be related to the sitter’s limitations but it may also be related to the Medium. These challenges however highlight the limitations of spirit communication and in general further highlights the complexity of studying the “ nature of our universe”.
Examining “prediction accuracy” also has its limitations. This study took into consideration the typical time period a prediction takes to manifest (actually occur within the sitter’s consciousness). Some research studies examine the statements at one point in time (statements are scored right after the reading). This study considers the fact that a Medium’s predictions typically takes 18 months to manifest. Of the 88 participants in the study, 42% had eligible prediction statements in their reading. Of the 42%, only one-third (36%) were able to provide follow-up reports at 6 months and 1 year periods. The attrition rate was largely due to contact limitations and the participant’s acknowledgement that documenting their weekly events in their research diary was challenging. During a case study that took into consideration readings over a 20 year period with the same Medium, the participant noted that in some cases predications from the medium manifested 12 years after the reading. Since, predictions are based on the “probabilities of the universe”, the timing for a prediction to manifest is variable. Only a systematic longitudinal study (at least 10 years in length) with a randomly selected group of participants will allow researchers to calculate a more precise “accuracy prediction rate”. This study however was able to isolate the key factors contributing to accurate future predictions.
Finally, one of the common limitations in this type of research relates to the “interpretation” of the statements made by a Medium. The diagram below illustrates the complexity of this type of communication.
Diagram 1: Communicating with Spirit: Factors to Consider
Diagram 2: Communicating with Spirit: Complex Communications System
This diagram illustrates the non-linear communication between spirit, the Medium and the Sitter. The red arrows illustrate the lines of communication between spirit and the Medium and then between the medium and the sitter. The green arrow indicates that this is more of an indirect communication system where thoughts between the sitter and spirit occur despite the sitter’s lack of awareness that this may be occurring. This intricate system of communication can sometimes lead to a type of “broken telephone” leading to various interpretations of the information. The fact that the information may be accurate but the interpretation by either the Medium or sitter may be inaccurate increases “scoring” related challenges.
In this study, all of the research limitations related to the Barnum Effect, self-reporting, sitter’s limited knowledge, timelines for predictions and interpretation challenges have all been considered and mitigation strategies have been used to diminish threats to the study’s validity.