Review paper by Richard Wiseman

Posted on October 9, 2007


A researcher who has looked at the psychology of superstition and about whom I’d known about for a while but whom I have not yet mentioned is Richard Wiseman (a great name for a scientist). The reason why I had not previously mentioned him was that I hadn’t looked at his work. However, I have just finished looking at “Belief in psychic ability and the misattribution hypothesis: A qualitative review”, which he co-wrote with Caroline Watt. In it they review research which “has examined the notion that people tend to believe in psychic ability because they possess psychological attributes that make them more likely to misattribute paranormal causation to normal experiences.” As might be expected for a review, the paper is more a valuable service to the community than a ground-breaking piece of research. The same might be said regarding the suggestions it make for future research – Wiseman and Watt state clearly what should be fairly obvious to many others.

In the near future I want to look at two other things that Wiseman has done. The first is his work on luck. I am not so much interested in the link between certain people having a positive attitude and being deemed lucky but in the role that the notion of luck plays in superstitious beliefs – not sure how much he has done on that. The second is his article arguing for doing collaborative research with people who are not sceptical of superstitious claims (Wiseman is sceptical, himself). Personally, I find the idea highly implausible and have seen critical analyses of Irwin’s work on researcher attitudes biasing participant responses that seems to underlie Wiseman’s claims.