A closer look at distant healers

posted: 3406 days ago, on Thursday, 2008 Aug 14 at 11:46
tags: psychology, faith healing, alt med.

There are those who claim that they can heal sick people with therapeutic touch, Reiki, spiritual healing, energy healing, faith healing, intercessory prayer, nondirected prayer, Shamanic healing, the list goes on.

Needless to say, this sort of mumbo-jumbo is not supported by any evidence. Double-blind trials do not support the assumption that distant healing is anything more than a placebo effect.

Since many people make use of such unconventional "cures" it is important to understand these alleged cures, and also to understand the practitioners these are individuals who have great influence over the people they treat.

While several studies have looked at the personality types of the clients (I mean, patients), a recent study by Prof Andreas Hergovich and Dr Martin Arendasy (University of Vienna) was the first to study personality correlates of the charlatans (I mean, distant healers) themselves. They investigated whether people who purport to be distant healers differ from the general population, and from a control group of masseurs, respectively, with regard to personality dimensions.

Distant healers often claim to heal by means of external, metaphysical agencies, for example spirits, nature beings, saints of the Catholic Church, spirits of the deceased, and even extraterrestrial beings. One can assume that these healers believe strongly in such paranormal phenomena.

It is well established that there is a relationship between belief in the paranormal and schizotypy, and that there is a relationship between alternative healing and certain symptoms of schizophrenia.

Hergovich and Arendasy postulated that distant healers would score higher on various facets of schizotypy, which includes magical thinking, ideas of reference, lack of relationships, social anxiety, odd behaviour and odd speech patterns.

In addition, certain personality correlates were predicted to occur. Since distant healing contains elements of hypnotic susceptibility, they postulated that the personality dimensions of Extraversion, Openness to experience, and Neuroticism, as measured by Costa & McCrae's Five Factor Personality Model (using the NEO-Five Factor Inventory), would be elevated amongst the distant healers. (No specific prediction was made for Agreeableness and Conscientiousness.) This is the first study to examine personality dimensions of distant healers.

The healers were recruited with the help of the German branch of CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) in collaboration with Austrian television. 18 distant healers took part (seven men, 11 women) aged 30 to 69 years. A control group of 19 masseurs were selected (11 men, eight women) aged 24 to 60 years.

The subjects completed the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire-Brief and the NEO-Five Factor Inventory.

Analysis of the personality data showed that only one prediction was satisfied: distant healers exhibit above-average Openness to experience. The prediction that they would also be more extraverted, and more neurotic, was not supported by the findings.

When the sample was partialed by age (the age difference between distant healers and masseurs was substantial), the distant healers scored significantly lower than the masseurs on the Conscientiousness scale.

The results of the study did, however, validate the first hypothesis: distant healers exhibit significantly higher schizotypal behaviour patterns, both in comparison to the normative population and the control group of masseurs.

It's a pity this exploratory study did not include an explicit assessment of paranormal belief.

References

  1. Hergovich, A. & Arendasy, M. (2007) Scores for schizotypy and five-factor model of a sample of distant healers: A preliminary study. Percep Motor Skills, 105, 197-203.

Links

  1. Schizotypy (at PsychNet.UK)
  2. Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire-Brief (PDF download)
  3. NEO-Five Factor Inventory (at Wikipedia)
  4. Faith healing (at quackwatch)
  5. Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal

nothing more to see. please move along.