Commentary on “Extrasensory Perception Experiences and Childhood Trauma”

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The relationship between anomalous experiences (AEs) and trauma is very complex, and we are still a long way from having a good understanding of it. Of course there is a need for more research into sex differences, because both the research of Scimeca et al. (2015) and Sar et al. (2014) suffer from the same methodological limitation: the excessive or even exclusive use of female subjects. Nevertheless, as we argued in the limitations section of our research (Scimeca et al., 2015), it is important to remember that the overwhelming majority of people who report an AE are women (Irwin, 2001; Rice, 2003); this substantially increases the generalizability of findings of all-female or predominantly female studies. On the other hand, an understanding of the way in which sex differences influence the relationship between AEs and trauma might provide important insights into that relationship.
Second, AEs are unquestionably very diverse, and it is still not clear whether any particular kind of AE is associated with trauma. Rabeyron and Watt (2010) have noted that it is important to search for associations between specific kinds of negative events and specific AEs. Accordingly, our study was undertaken to analyze a specific AE, extrasensory perception (ESP). We found that individuals reporting this kind of AE are more likely to report experience of emotional abuse and emotional neglect than a nonclinical sample of individuals who do not report recurrent ESP phenomena. Physical neglect and experience of sexual abuse were also reported by individuals who experienced ESP, but the prevalence of these forms of trauma was lower.
I have some doubts about the application of meta-analysis to research on telepathy and other parapsychological protocols. Meta-analysis is a set of statistical techniques used to resolve issues arising from contradictory scientific findings. It is usually used to verify whether different variables are associated and then to identify factors influencing the association (Hall et al., 1994). In mainstream science, it is never used to demonstrate the existence of a single variable, because the variables to which it is applied must already have been observed and measured. For example, meta-analysis has been used to demonstrate an association between consumption of aspirin and reduction in risk of heart attacks. It was not, however, used to demonstrate the existence of aspirin or the existence of heart attacks, which can easily be observed. It follows that I do not think that meta-analysis can easily be used to demonstrate the existence of ESP experiences (Scimeca et al., 2001), as mathematical formulae cannot replace empirical observation. On the other hand, meta-analytic techniques could be used to give important insights into the conditions under which ESP experiences might be constantly produced or at least observed. There have been various promising attempts to replicate ESP findings via other, rigorously applied parapsychological protocols (Cardeña et al., 2015; Watt and Tierney, 2014).
I believe that there are various methods that can be used to investigate associations involving AE (Cardeña et al., 2014); each has its strengths and weaknesses. Statistical techniques are probably useful for demonstrating an association between two or more variables, whereas spontaneous case studies or clinical case studies may contribute to our understanding of why an association exists (Scimeca et al., 2001). Understanding is a process, not a question of numbers.
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