Society for Psychical Research

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Fails from the crypt

Society for Psychical Research (SPR) is a non-profit organisation in the United Kingdom which investigates events and abilities commonly described as psychic or paranormal.


According to the Society for Psychical Research:

The SPR was the first organisation established to examine allegedly paranormal phenomena using scientific principles. Our aim is to learn more about events and abilities commonly described as "psychic" or "paranormal" by supporting research, sharing information and encouraging debate. Our members come from all over the world, and represent a variety of academic and professional interests. We welcome active researchers as well as people who simply want to know more about the subject.[1]

The SPR was founded in 1882 in London by a group of thinkers including Edmund Gurney, Frederic William Henry Myers, William Fletcher Barrett, Henry Sidgwick and Edmund Dawson Rogers. Some of the things the SPR has investigated include telepathy, mesmerism, mediumship, apparitions, ghosts and haunted houses, poltergeists and phenomena associated with séances.

Critical SPR investigations into mediumship and the exposure of fake mediums led to a number of resignations in the 1880s by some spiritualist members.

Modern membership[edit]

The SPR claims not to hold any corporate opinions on the paranormal as its members have a variety of beliefs or lack thereof about the reality and nature of the phenomena studied; however by reading over the publications of the SPR you can see that most of the members believe in the existence of the paranormal.

The SPR has had a number of skeptical members but this seems to have declined in recent years. An early member, Frank Podmore (1856-1910), had debunked many mediums as using trickery and fraud and wrote some notable books on the subject. A later member, Guy William Lambert (1889-1984), was skeptical about haunted houses and poltergeists and proposed a geophysical explanation for haunted and poltergeist activity based on the activity of underground water and other weather factors. He theorised that underground water could cause structural movement of the property, possibly causing the house to vibrate and move objects.[2]

Apart from a few skeptical members, many members of the SPR seem to be very gullible and fall into the trap of magical thinking about some of the phenomena investigated, rejecting natural explanations for paranormal ones. Since its very beginning members such as Frederic Myers (1843-1901) have believed mediumship is genuine; this has continued with recent members including David Fontana and others. The SPR website itself seems to conclude that there is evidence that the deceased SPR founders actually returned from the grave to communicate with mediums.[3] Most members of the SPR also believe things like psychokinesis are real and that extrasensory perception has been proven. Some members of the SPR believe that spiritualistic phenomena which were once attributed to spirits can now be explained by psychokinesis.[4] This view is not accepted by the scientific community.

One member, Samuel Soal (1889–1975), has been accused of fraudulent production of data regarding experiments in extrasensory perception.

Tom Ruffles[edit]

Tom Ruffles joined the SPR in 1987 and is its Communications Officer,[5] after being involved in the Anglia Paranormal Research Group and contributing to the Fortean Times. A firm believer in ghosts and the paranormal, Ruffles is the author of the book Ghost Images: Cinema of the Afterlife.

Some of the members[edit]

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Grattan-Guinness, Ivor (1982). Psychical Research: A Guide to Its History, Principles & Practices - in celebration of 100 years of the Society for Psychical Research. Aquarian Press
  • Gauld, A. (1968) The Founders of Psychical Research. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Haynes, Renée (1982) The Society for Psychical Research 1882-1982: A History. London: MacDonald & Co.
  • Salter, W.H. (1948) The Society for Psychical Research: An Outline of its History. SPR Booklet.


  1. About The Society for Psychical Research
  2. Lambert, G. W. (1955). "Poltergeists: A Psychical Theory". Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 38.
  3. History of The Society for Psychical Research
  4. Renee Haynes (1982) The Society for Psychical Research 1882-1982: A History. London: MacDonald & Co. p. 168
  5. Trustees and Officers for the SPR