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A Report on the 1983 A.R.E. Psychical Research Conferences

Mark Thurston, Ph.D. & Henry Reed, Ph.D., Atlantic University

On a number of occasions the Edgar Cayce readings stressed that the Association for Research and Enlightenment, Inc., was to be primarily a research organization. In the very wording of the organization’s name is the implication that education and enlightenment are the result of research. In the early years of the A.R.E. the source of the readings occasionally chastised the leaders for their failure to place enough emphasis on research functions. They were warned that it was like putting the cart before the horse to present concepts for enlightenment without first having tested them in a research setting.

Of course, research does not always mean carefully controlled laboratory testing. As important as that type of research may be, much can also be gained from personal application of specific concepts. For this reason we might think of the Search for God Study Group Program as a level of experimentation with principles from the readings; and we also might view as research the anecdotal reports of members who have tested particular health or consciousness concepts in their own lives.

Perhaps no single type of research has been more controversial for the A.R.E. than working with psychically sensitive individuals. On the one hand, the organization itself would not exist were it not for the psychic gift of Edgar Cayce. On the other, the organization has maintained a policy for many years of not recommending any specific psychic. The feeling has been, and continues to be, that until psychics can be carefully tested and worked with over a prolonged period of time, it is irresponsible for the organization to designate one or more individuals as officially endorsed psychics. However, the lack of any recommended list is not meant to imply that the Association is not interested in parapsychological research. The readings themselves strongly encourage us to be involved in the testing and training of individuals who show particular promise as developing psychics. With this in mind, a psychical research effort was initiated to coincide with the 1983 summer conference season in Virginia Beach.

The results of this psychical research study should be viewed in a broader context. Research efforts were initiated in 1973. At that time, the Board of Trustees approved the formation of a Research Advisory Committee made up of A.R.E. staff members and volunteer experts in the field of research. In the May, 1973, issue of The A.R.E. Journal, a particularly significant article appeared, entitled "The Philosophy of Research." That article summarized the basic approach recommended in the Cayce readings for conducting research, both research with psychics and that involving any other topic found in the readings. There were four key points in that article. First, any research should he designed to test specific hypotheses or theoretical statements about human nature. Second, any experimentation should provide a learning experience for those who participate in the research. Third, those individuals who are engaged as subjects in the project should be viewed as co-researchers with the research staff. And, finally, the best results are likely to be obtained by testing hypotheses in the context of real life issues, as opposed to artificially created circumstances in a laboratory setting.

Although this final point is not intended to negate the significance and value of carefully controlled laboratory research, there is the implication in the readings that certain phenomena might be particularly elusive in the laboratory and show themselves more readily in the context of actual life circumstances.

Several experimental research projects have been conducted in the past 10 years which incorporate these four research ideals. Many members have participated in home-study research programs which have focused on meditation, dreams, ESP, and the common cold. Reports on the results of these projects have been published both in The A.R.E. Journal and in outside professional research journals.

The three 1983 Psychical Research Conferences were designed to test a number of hypotheses. These efforts focused not only on the applicability and accuracy of psychic readings given at a distance but also upon the value of other means of guidance—including astrology, numerology, incubated dreams, and personal meditation guidance as well as individual or group counseling. Several assumptions formed the basis of the research design.

1) The first assumption was that outer forms of guidance can best be used as stimulants for one’s own inner guidance.

2) The second assumption was that a person who is seeking an answer to a question might benefit best from the integration of a number of specific types of guidance, inner and outer. In other words, the answer to one’s question might be seen as a mosaic in which some of the pieces are provided by psychic readings, other pieces by astrology or numerology, and final pieces by inner sources of guidance such as intuition, dreams or meditation.

3) A final assumption was that in working with psychic readings it is probably best to receive more than one reading. It was assumed that for many people there is an innate tendency to ascribe a particular kind of wisdom or authority to a psychic reading merely because it purports to come from some higher or other-dimensional source. By receiving two or more psychic readings, the seeker has the benefit of comparative study which may make an objective evaluation easier (e.g., it forces one to make judgments and evaluations).

Procedures for Psychical Research Conferences

Participants in the 1983 Psychical Research Conferences were informed of this research effort via the summer conference catalog. They were required to travel to Virginia Beach for the week and to pay a tuition as they would for any other educational conference. However, in the case of these three psychical research conferences, a considerable amount of preparatory work was done before the conferees arrived in Virginia Beach. First, all participants provided the researchers with a list of four personal questions to which they were consciously and actively seeking answers in their own lives. Questions tended to deal with issues such as finding the soul’s purpose,, understanding an interpersonal relationship, identifying latent talents, or dealing with personal weaknesses. Questions concerning health issues were not permitted for this particular study. Each participant also provided the research staff with biographical information concerning time and place of birth and full name at birth in order to obtain the astrological and numerological readings. Since some of the psychics required a photograph in order to complete the reading, participants also sent a recent snapshot.

Fourteen psychically sensitive individuals were selected to provide the readings for this study. These individuals were selected through a screening process which began with a research questionnaire mailed to the entire membership a year earlier. Members were asked to provide the names of psychics from whom they had received readings which seemed to be of high quality. Any psychic who was mentioned on three or more questionnaires received a preliminary invitation letter from the research project director. This letter invited the psychic to participate in a pilot study project in which two or more readings were to be given for individuals designated by the research project director. From those pilot tests "screening" readings, 14 of the psychics were picked for the research conferences. For the purposes of this study, only psychics who appeared to be skillful in giving readings at a distance were chosen. This was in no way meant to imply that psychics who work only with the subject present in the room are in any way inferior. However, it was felt that for this first research study the "at-a-distance" approach would serve most efficiently. It is hoped that, in future studies, similar kinds of research can be done with psychics who work in other ways.

The readings were obtained on cassette tapes some two to three weeks before the beginning of the research conference. Each conference participant received two readings. In addition to the psychic readings, an astrology chart and a numerology chart were ordered in advance. These charts were produced by a computerized system in which a lengthy narrative about the individual was typed out to correspond to the specific astrological or numerological configuration of that person. There were, admittedly, drawbacks in working with a computerized system, especially in the case of the astrology readings. The computerized software programs for both the astrology and numerology were based upon the carefully tested and well-respected systems of thought of respective esoteric scientists. However, in the case of the astrological portrait, the lack of a human astrologer to deal individually with each reading may not have allowed the astrology to be as well represented in this study as some would have hoped.

Once the participants arrived in Virginia Beach, they were led through a carefully designed educational week created to optimize their experience in obtaining answers to the four questions they had posed some six to eight weeks earlier. The conference began with lectures and workshops on understanding sources of guidance and in carefully evaluating answers to the four questions posed. Getting acquainted with a small group of seven other conferees plus a group leader (with whom considerable portions of the research week would be spent) was also a part of the initial conference experience. During the first afternoon of the conference, each participant completed two psychological inventories, both of which had a humanistic orientation. First was a temperament survey based upon the psychological ideas of Carl Jung. This survey provided a scale-score measurement of six indicators of human personality: introversion, extroversion, and the tendency to rely on thinking, feeling, intuition and sensation in responding to life events (the world). The other paper-and-pencil inventory was the Personal Orientation Inventory based upon the thought of Abraham Maslow. When scored, this inventory provided measurements of 14 key indicators of human personality, especially those related to the process of self-actualization.

Later during that first afternoon, participants received their computerized astrology charts and were given evaluation exercises to rate their accuracy.

In a similar fashion, during the second day of the conference, participants received their computerized numerology readings as well as cassette tapes of their two psychic readings. Time was provided for listening to and studying these readings, and each conferee completed several scoring tasks to evaluate initial impressions about the accuracy of the readings. On the third day conferees received the results of their Jungian temperament survey and the P.0.1. In addition, the third day began preparations for an overnight &ream incubation experiment which focused on one of the conferees’ four questions.

Throughout these first three days, there were also frequent meetings with the small groups. In these groups conferees could share insights about the helpfulness of various sources of guidance, as well as support each other in the formulation of personal answers to their four questions. Beginning with the afternoon of the third day, one-on-one counseling sessions with A.R.E. staff members began. Each conferee was given a 90-minute session with an A.R.E. staff member whose background involved training in professional counseling. These sessions were spaced so that they fell either on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday for an individual conferee. Throughout the week participants were also encouraged to work with meditation, looking for inner answers to any of their four questions.

The conference week concluded with each conferee attempting to summarize what answers had been obtained to any or all of the four questions. In addition, some summary evaluations of key aspects of the conference week and the various sources of guidance were provided by each participant. In the spirit of viewing each conferee as a co-researcher, the closing afternoon session included a critique of every aspect of the conference design so that future research efforts of this type could be more productive.

Analysis of the Data

Each participant was asked to make some 155 evaluations. Many of these items were on a scale of 0 to 10, others were responses to true/false questions. Of the 141 participants, 121 completed a sufficient percentage of the questions to enable us to use their evaluations in the data analysis. With this much data having been collected, there are an overwhelming number of possible comparisons that could be made. The research staff has tried to select the most significant of these, particularly ones which have a bearing upon hypotheses the staff wishes to investigate or ones which might provide for the A.R.E. membership generally applicable insights regarding sources of guidance.

One general analysis concerns the relative helpfulness of the various sources of guidance incorporated in the research design. At the end of the conference, the participants were asked to imagine that they had $100 to distribute among the various sources of guidance as they had experienced them. They were to assign a dollar value commensurate with the helpfulness they had experienced from that source of guidance. Chart No. 1 lists the areas among which each conferee was to distribute his mock money and the overall average dollar figure for all 121 participants. Clearly, some of the sources of guidance were indicated to be more helpful than others. These results, however, should be interpreted in the context of the research design being used. For example, as has already been mentioned, the astrological reading was in the nature of a computer printout and, although quite lengthy, may have lacked certain elements found in a more personalized astrology reading obtained in the traditional fashion. The same might be true as well, although to a lesser extent, with the numerology readings.

Chart No. 1

Guidance Source Average "Dollars"

First Psychic Reading                                                     $22.56

Second Psychic Reading                                               17.48

Astrology                                                                             8.41
Numerology                                                                        5.14
Jungian Survey                                                                  3.51

P.0.1.                                                                                     4.31

Dreams                                                                                 6.53
Counseling                                                                           9.70
Small Group                                                                       10.26
Own Efforts                                                                        11.85

A more detailed examination of the conference participants’ evaluation of the relative helpfulness of dreams revealed an interesting result. Although the average rating in this area for all 121 conferees was $6.53, it was found that only 60 of the conferees actually remembered their dreams and, of these, only 50 felt they were able adequately to compare their dream information with their psychic readings. When the ratings of relative helpfulness of the various sources of guidance were examined for only these 50 people, 30 rated the psychic readings higher than their dream guidance. However.~ the other 20 participants rated their own dream guidance as good or better than either one or both of their psychic readings. The results from these 20 participants reminds us of Cayce’s statement that dream guidance can be as good as guidance from a psychic. Further research may indicate the conditions under which this is true.

Another area of analysis concerns the 14 psychics themselves. The psychics gave a differing number of readings, ranging from a low of 6 readings by one psychic to a high of 32 readings by another. Based upon the many evaluations provided by the conferees during the course of the week, six principal scales of measurement were used.

1) Initial impressions. Only moments after first listening to a reading, the conferee answered 15 questions concerning initial impressions about accuracy and helpfulness. These 15 responses were integrated into an initial impression score for a given psychic, and an overall initial impressions average was obtained by adding all of the respective scores from their subjects and then dividing by the appropriate number.

2) Evidential statements. Later in the week each conferee was asked to look at the psychic reading again with an eye toward elements within the reading that were clearly verifiable or clearly erroneous. For example, statements regarding the subject’s profession, hair color, number of children, etc., could I be statements that in an unambiguous way could be labeled as accurate or inaccurate. The conferee was asked to make an evaluation on a scale of 0 to 10 concerning the preponderance of accurate evidential statements over inaccurate ones. Of course, because it is the style of some psychics to include few or no j statements that can be validated or invalidated quite so 1 directly, this particular evaluation was difficult in some instances. With that in mind, a response of "5’, was equated with "cannot tell" or "just as many accuracies as inaccuracies."

3) Assigned dollars. As mentioned above, near the end of the conference week conferees were asked to distribute their mock $100. The number of dollars assigned to a particular psychic reading constituted a kind of numeric representation of accuracy and helpfulness.

4) Final evaluation. At the end of the conference week the participants made a final numeric indicator of quality and helpfulness of the reading. In some instances, their final evaluation differed considerably from their initial impressions. This may have been because of further insights that came from other sources of guidance that tended to corroborate what the I reading had said (even though initially they had felt that the reading was inaccurate) or because of changes of thinking stimulated by the group or individual counseling.

5) Growth in appreciation. This factor is merely the difference between the initial impression and the final impression. Apparently some psychics provide readings that are more appreciated after a week’s worth of consideration. On the other hand, some psychics provide readings that make a better first impression than a lasting one.

6) Composite score. The above scale scores (with the exception of the growth in appreciation scale) were combined to provide an overall evaluation on the part of the conferee of his or her particular psychic reading. In Chart No.2 the reader will find a summary of the results of each of the 14 psychics. The number in parentheses beneath the psychic’s code number indicates the number of readings by that psychic which were involved in the analysis. In some instances, the psychic may have provided more readings than were used in the data analysis because some of their subjects did not provide us with comprehensive enough evaluations to include their data. The numbers in the chart reflect average figures, so, for example, the average composite score for psychic no. 7 is approximately 89 points; whereas the average evidential statement points for psychic no. 3 is 6.8 points.

Chart No. 2

One hypothesis of the researcher was not validated by these results. It was expected that the "growth appreciation" scale would overall be a significant positive figure. The thinking was that participants would rate their readings higher at the end of the week than at the beginning. It was expected that this positive change would be created by the integration of various sources of guidance as the week progressed (e.g., a statement from a reading which was threatening and rejected earlier in the week would be more readily accepted later in the week as other sources of guidance corroborated it). Apparently, this "integration of various sources" was just as likely to produce diminished as enhanced evaluations of a psychic reading.

In another area of analysis, no significant results were obtained. This involved the search for personality factors which might have related to conferees’ tendencies to evaluate readings in a certain way. For example, the researchers asked themselves, "Are people who believe more strongly in ESP more likely to rate their readings higher?" Or, "Are conferees who score higher on inter-directedr~ess (from the P.0.1.) more inclined to score the psychic readings lower?" The personality characteristics concerned in these analyses involved all of the P.0.1. scale scores, all of the Jung-survey scale scores, a question regarding belief in ESP, as well as a question regarding the conferees’ own confidence of finding good answers to their four questions. No significant correlations were obtained with any of these comparisons when a statistical procedure called regression analysis was used. This finding was surprising to the researchers, who had supposed that at least some of these many personality and temperament factors would be related to tendencies to view psychic readings in a particular way. However, it should be kept in mind that the nature of research is to obtain negative conclusions as well as positive ones. In this regard, these particular findings are just as significant as confirmatory ones.

Another interesting area of analysis concerns the different kinds of questions posed by the conferees. Recall that each participant submitted four personal questions well in advance of the conference. On the first day of the conference, the participant worked along with his or her group to categorize each of the questions into one of 10 broad areas. These 10 categories are listed below:


0==past-life concerns

1==psychological conflicts, problems; habits, fears

2==love; marriage; divorce; soul mates

3==family; child rearing; parental influence

4==finances; investments

5==career choices or changes; talents; abilities

6==nonfamily interpersonal issues (e.g., my supervisor and myself)

7==predictions of the future

8==philosophical, religious, metaphysical; spiritual development

9==research: questions of general interest


At the end of the conference, participants were asked to report on which source of guidance had been most helpful with each of their four questions. (See Chart No. 4.) For purposes of this response, participants were asked not to include the psychic readings, but to indicate which non-psychic-reading source of gmdance was most helpful with each- of the four questions.

Chart No. 3 shows the frequency with which a particular source of guidance was chosen as the most helpful with a particular category of question. For example, the incubated dream was chosen 15 times as the most helpful non-psychic-reading source of guidance concerning career questions (category 5). The reader may wish to study this chart carefully and compare it to his or her own personal experience or to derive indications that might have general applicability for seekers other than the participants in this research study.

Chart No. 3

Chart No. 4

Of course, the psychics themselves were interested in knowing what kinds of questions they best answered. For example, psychic no.4 might have wondered, "Do I do better at past-life questions or general philosophical questions?" Or psychic no.8 might have wondered, "Do I do better at financial questions or relationship questions?" In the chart below, this kind of analysis is addressed. The average score for particular types of questions for particular psychics is indicated here. For example, psychic no. 9 on past-life questions (category code 0) had an average rating of 8.1. Although this chart is of greater applicability to the individual psychics in their self-study, the reader may want to notice the variance that exists among psychics.

Because of the unique research design for this project (i.e., each participant received two readings), we were able to evaluate the psychic readings in an additional way. In making their evaluations, conferees were asked to measure two variables. The first, labeled "commonality," measures the degree to which the two readings directly corroborated each other. A second measure, "goodness of fit," evaluates the extent to which the readings build upon each other. With this second measure, we are not looking for direct repetition of information as much as pieces of information that fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. A simple example of a "good fit" might be one reading pointing out the conferee’s aversion to the ocean or boat rides, and the other reading suggesting a past life in which the individual had drowned in a boating accident.

Chart No. 5 summarizes the average score on both of these measures computed by category question. We anticipated that different topics would lend themselves in a variable fashion to commonality and "goodness of fit." The figures in this table are supportive of this notion. Of special note is the relatively low average score on commonality for interpersonal relations and for questions associated with past-life concerns. Research questions of general interest show the highest commonality, although this might have been anticipated due to the minimal requirement for personal details found in such questions. On "goodness of fit," past-life questions and questions regarding family relations are again particularly low in their evaluations.


Chart No. 5

In conclusion, these three offerings of a psychical research program have been quite successful. Certainly, there are limitations to the research design that was employed. Not only did it limit us to psychics whose specialties were readings at a distance, but some of the other sources of guidance (such as astrology) were not represented as accurately as they might have been. In future versions of this research we hope to make improvements that eliminate these sorts of limitations.

Yet, despite these shortcomings, many things were accomplished. A relatively intricate, complicated study was completed which fulfilled the research ideals to which A.R.E. has committed itself. Clearly, the subjects/conferees participated as co-researchers with the A.R.E. staff. From the comments both at the end of the conference and in follow-up questionnaires, it seems that for virtually all of the conferees this was a powerful learning experience. It was also demonstrated that research work with psychics could be done which incorporated real-life questions, real-life issues, and in a manner that the Cayce readings suggested would be helpful to the participants. Finally, some preliminary conclusions (or at least indications) were derived which relate to specific hypotheses in the Cayce readings. For example, there are indicators that certain kinds of questions lend themselves more readily to specific kinds of guidance. It was demonstrated that, for many participants, integration of a variety of sources of guidance during the course of a week tended to shape and alter their perception of a psychic reading as well as their own best answer to a key concern.

This kind of research will continue in 1984. The results from the 1983 research do not appear to be sufficient yet to create a list of psychics endorsed by the A.R.E. However, we hope to include in future research those who did especially well in the 1983 study.

Mark Thurston was project coordinator for several previous A.R.E. research projects, including ones on meditation and psychic ability. He is on the faculty of Atlantic University.

Henry Reed designed this psychical research project and its data analysis strategy. In addition, he prepared the participants ‘evaluation workbook and, along with Dr. Thurston, conducted the educational portion of the psychic research weeks. He is Director of the Edgar Cayce Institute for Intuitive Studies and on the faculty of Atlantic University.

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