The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) is a non-profit organisation in the United Kingdom. Its stated purpose is to understand "events and abilities commonly described as psychic or paranormal by promoting and supporting important research in this area" and to "examine allegedly paranormal phenomena in a scientific and unbiased way."[1]


The SPR was founded in 1882 in London by a group of eminent thinkers including Edmund Gurney, Frederic William Henry Myers, William Fletcher Barrett, Henry Sidgwick and Edmund Dawson Rogers.[2] The SPR was the first organisation of its kind in the world, its stated purpose being "to approach these varied problems without prejudice or prepossession of any kind, and in the same spirit of exact and unimpassioned enquiry which has enabled science to solve so many problems, once not less obscure nor less hotly debated."[3]

Initially six committees were established: on Thought-Transference, Mesmerism and similar phenomena, Mediumship, Reichenbach Phenomena (Odic Force), Apparitions and Haunted Houses, physical phenomena associated with séances, and the Literary Committee which studied the history of these phenomena.[4] One significant undertaking was the Census of Hallucinations, in which 15,000 people were asked to report on hallucinatory experiences while awake and in good health. Some 10% of those reported such experiences, and a small number of 'veridical hallucinations' were reported - that is, hallucinations which appeared to convey information not known to the person hallucinating at the time, which was believed by the authors to be suggestive of telepathy.[5]

Critical SPR investigations into purported mediums and the exposure of fake mediums led to a number of resignations in the 1880s by Spiritualist members,[4] but the Society continued to investigate mediums, studying Leonora Piper and Eusapia Palladino among others.[6] In 1885 the report of the Committee on Theosophical Phenomena expressed the opinion that the founder of the Theosophical Society, Helena Petrova Blavatsky, was "neither the mouthpiece of hidden seers, nor... a mere vulgar adventuress; we think she has achieved title to permanent remembrance as one of the most accomplished, ingenious and interesting imposters in history".[7] This report, which had a marked effect on Theosophy, remains as with all SPR reports the opinion of the member concerned; the SPR holds no corporate opinions.[8]

It gained the SPR a reputation for being scientific and highly critical. Mrs Salter recorded W. B. Yeats as saying "It's my belief that if you psychical researchers had been about when God Almighty was creating the world, he couldn't have done the job".[9]

The SPR is frequently referred to in Victorian and Edwardian literature as "the Psychical Research Society". The term psychical was adopted to distinguish the purported phenomena from those classified as psychic, (that is simply mental processes such as thought, memory, etc.) and the SPR were to introduce a number of other neologisms which have entered the English language, such as 'telepathy', which was coined by Frederic Myers.[10]


The Society is run by a President and a Council of twenty members, and is open to interested members of the public to join. The organisation is based at 49 Marloes Road, Kensington, London, with a library and office open to members, and with large archival holdings in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England. It publishes the peer reviewed quarterly Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (JSPR), the irregular Proceedings and the magazine Paranormal Review. It holds an annual conference, regular lectures and two study days per year[1][11] and supports the LEXSCIEN on-line library project.[12]

The SPR states its principal aim as "understanding events and abilities commonly described as psychic or paranormal by promoting and supporting important research in this area."[13] It does not however, since its inception in 1882, hold any corporate opinions: SPR members have a variety of beliefs or lack thereof about the reality and nature of the phenomena studied, and many prominent sceptics have been active members of the Society.[14]Template:Citation needed

Notable membersEdit

Past and current notable members of the SPR include Henry Sidgwick, Frederick Myers, Charles Dodgson, Alfred Russel Wallace, W. B. Yeats, C. G. Jung, William James, Arthur Balfour, Archie Roy, Rupert Sheldrake, Richard Wiseman, Susan Blackmore, Dean Radin, Alastair Sim, Peter Underwood and Charles Tart.[15]

In 1893, the year that Arthur Balfour was president of the SPR the author Arthur Conan Doyle joined the society.[16]

Investigators of spontaneous phenomena (hauntings, etc.) have included Guy Lyon Playfair and Maurice Grosse, who investigated reports of the Enfield Poltergeist.[17][18] and Tony Cornell who conducted extensive investigations over many decades.[19]

Other societiesEdit

A number of other psychical research organisations use the term 'Society for Psychical Research' in their name.

  • Australia - In 1979 the Australian Society for Psychical Research was founded.[20]
  • Denmark - Selskabet for Psykisk Forskning (The Danish Society for Psychical Research) was founded in 1905.[23]
  • France - In 1885, a society called the Société de Psychologie Physiologique (Society for Physiological Psychology) was formed by Charles Richet, Théodule-Armand Ribot and Léon Marillier. It existed until 1890 when it was abandoned due to lack of interest.[24][25]
  • Netherlands - The Studievereniging voor Psychical Research (Dutch for Society for Psychical Research) was founded in 1917.[26]
  • Poland - The Polish Society for Psychical Research was very active before the second world war.[27]
  • Sweden - Sällskapet för Parapsykologisk Forskning (the Swedish Society for Parapsychological Research) was founded in 1948.[29]
  • USA - An American branch of the Society was formed as the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) in 1885, which became independent in 1906.[30] A splinter group, the Boston Society for Psychical Research existed from May 1925 to 1941.[31]

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 SPR websiteTemplate:Dead link
  2. Grattan-Guiness, I. (1982) Psychical Research: A Guide to Its History, Principles & Practices
  3. Grattan-Guinness, I. (1982) Psychical Research: A Guide to Its History, Principles & Practices, p. 19
  4. 4.0 4.1 Gauld,A. (1968) The Founders of Psychical Research
  5. "Report of the Census of Hallucinations." Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 10 (1894): 25.
  6. Fielding,e., Baggaly, W and Carrington, H (1909) Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research:23, p.306-569
  7. Report cited in Grattan-Guinness, I. (1982) Psychical Research: A Guide to Its History, Principles & Practices, p. 23
  8. Harrison, Vernon (1997) H. P. Blavatsky and the SPR. ISBN 1-55700-119-7
  9. cited in Grattan-Guinness, I. (1982Psychical Research: A Guide to Its History, Principles & Practices, p. 23
  10. Template:Cite web
  11. Edinburgh University Website
  12. Template:Cite web
  13. Template:Cite book
  14. Template:Cite web
  15. Haynes, Renee (1982) The Society for Psychical Research 1882-1982: A History. London: MacDonald
  16. Duncan, Alistair (2010) The Norwood Author - Arthur Conan Doyle & The Norwood Years (1891-1894)
  17. Playfair, G. L. & Grosse, M. (1988). "Enfield Revisited: the evaporation of positive evidence". Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 55 pp. 208-219.
  18. Playfair, G. L. (1980). This House is Haunted: The True Story of a Poltergeist. Stein & Day.
  19. Template:Cite web
  21. Template:Cite web
  22. [McMullin, Stan (2004) Anatomy of a Séance: A History of Spirit Communication in Central Canada (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press), p. 87.]
  24. Template:Cite web
  25. Richet, Charles. Traité de Métapsychique. Bruxelles: Artha Production, 1994, p.63. ISBN 2-930111-00-3
  26. Template:Cite web
  27. [Barrington, Stevenson and Weaver, (2005) A World in a Grain of Sand: The Clairvoyance of Stefan Ossowiecki, Jefferson, NC, and London, McFarland, ISBN 0-7864-2112-6]
  31. Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

External links Edit

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