How Mediumship Has Been Studied By Science

Jun 7 · 9 min read

Originally published in Change Your Mind

Photo by Edz Norton on Unsplash

I’ve always been a believer in what’s unseen. Even as a kid, I had a mystifying interest in psychic phenomena, checking out all the books at the local library on the topic and doing the best self-study my nine-year-old self could muster.

A couple of years back, my husband and I lost three close friends unexpectedly within a short period of time. After the second death, I had inexplicable experiences where I felt that I was hearing from him. I got messages that involved information I wouldn’t have known about him otherwise.

Not long after that particular death, I found myself at the Minneapolis Mind Body Spirit Expo, a gathering of wellness practitioners, psychics, crystal shops, and all the yummy stuff I love to nerd out on secretly in my spare time (I haven’t changed much since fourth grade, apparently).

I signed up for a sample reading with a woman, an older, curly-haired lady with subtle glasses over kind eyes.

She asked me what I wanted to know.

I mentioned I’d recently had two friends pass, and gave her their first names. She wrote them down on a piece of paper, then spent a moment studying the names she’d written, looking up occasionally with a furrowed brow, then back to the paper. She pointed at the first name with her pen.

“This one was an accident,” she said. “He put something in his body that he didn’t realize, and because of that, he died. He admits it was a mistake and his contracts were not fulfilled.”

I found out later that the overdose happened because of fentanyl.

She moves her pen to the second name, “this one was more intentional.” After a brief pause, she added, “it wasn’t a suicide, though, not intentional like that. It wasn’t intentional at the moment; he was struggling and didn’t think he had the strength to get through it, so he was reckless.”

Both deaths were overdoses, and both struggled with addiction for some time before they finally succumbed to it.

One of the “messages” I believed I had gotten from him was that he was relieved this life was over. Receiving it stopped me in my tracks, caused me to look at the ceiling above me and wonder for aloud moment, “where the heck did that come from?”


A couple of weeks passed and I found myself with an energy healer I see occasionally. She moved from my neighborhood to up north and would come back on occasion to see old clients in the area. My sessions with her are usually sporadic, based on if I get an email that she happens to be in town.

During this session, I tell her about the grief I’d been going through. She doesn’t generally do standalone “readings,” but will pass on messages if they’re received. I told her we had lost two friends, and that was it.

“The first one was an accident,” she says after taking a moment to see what she could receive, “he didn’t mean to die. The second one, well, he had more of an intention to die. Not necessarily at that moment, he just didn’t care if he lived or died.”


Getting the same information about two separate people from two different readings floored me. I found the information to be specific enough that the probability of two different readers who had no connection coming up with the same messages was low.

It took a long time before I told my husband about the “messages” I’d gotten from his friend, as well as these readings, but once I did, he confirmed the information, as well.


These experiences led me to spend the next several months diving into the world of mediumship…

An estimated 80% of the population believes in some form of life after death.

I watched documentaries on Gaia, I ordered books, and I read and read and read. I’m an analyzer, so for months, I spent time analyzing what was happening. I analyzed the messages I’d received and what science had to say about all this.

Although as a kid, I was an unequivocal believer, my college-educated adult mind wanted more than just first-hand experiences. So, I found the science.

Research into the paranormal and occult goes back more than a century. Science is, after all, not a body of knowledge but a set of tools utilized to answer questions about the world in which we live.

Beyond all the skepticism, the claims that all readings are cold readings (which research studies go through great lengths to ensure this doesn’t happen), and the insinuations that myself and these readers I chat with may have some diagnosable mental illness, I became more of a believer in the unseen world of mediumship the more I dove into it.


The research goes back over a hundred years.

“Historically speaking, every major paradigm shift in science was literally a violation of the basic scientific principles of the time.” (Westcombe, 2019, p. 619)

Many renowned psychologists and scientists have spent time studying the mediumship phenomena over the years, including Carl Jung, William Crookes, Charles Richet, and Pierre Janet.

Scientific research on mediums began in the late 19th century. A large body of research in the 1920s and 30s developed a rigorous scientific methodology to examine the subject, including the use of what’s called proxy readings.

Proxy readings are where the person being read is not present and instead is being read through a mediator who knows little about the sitter or their discarnate (the deceased person the medium is attempting to connect with).

Of these early studies, there were several that were significant and fascinating…


H.F. Saltmarsh & Mrs. Elliot

H.F. Saltmarsh conducted a sustained body of research that he reported in his 1929 paper.

His research involved readings by a Mrs. Elliot three times a week for a year. Of the 142 readings she did, 89 were proxy readings and the rest were anonymous readings with the real sitter present and a small handful of “controls.”

Each sitter would contribute an object belonging to the deceased to the research facility that was labeled by code and stored securely. On the morning of a reading, an object would be chosen at random, and neither the sitter nor the proxy would know what object had been chosen.

Readings would take place with Mrs. Elliot, the sitter, and often four to five controls each on average. The drawback noted in this study was that the sitters often knew if the reading was or was not for them.

Statements made would be scored either 1 for vague, 2 for true but also true for most, or 3 for highly specific. One of the more significant findings came from a series of nineteen readings in which the real sitters’ scores were over 12 times higher than that of the controls, suggesting something more than bias was happening.


C. Drayton Thomas and Mrs. Leonard

Another famous body of research done by C. Drayton Thomas involved sittings with a medium named Mrs. Leonard and involved 24 proxy readings.

Thomas noted in his concluding paper that there were a “bewildering variety of results.” Of the twenty-four readings he analyzed, four cases were very good, four were fair, seven were poor, and nine were either a failure or inconclusive.

This left Thomas wondering why the results would vary so considerably…

The involvement of the family he realized made no difference; the family’s intentions and eagerness to connect could have resulted in a very good reading or a failure.

In one of the total failures, the deceased person had died some years before, making Thomas wonder if the elapsed time since death would make a difference. There was also no difference in whether he made an acquaintance with the family ahead of time or not.

His ultimate conclusion was that the success or failure of a reading depended upon the characteristics of the deceased.

He noted in his paper, “To those who are prepared to admit the possibility of human survival and communication, I ask, is it not natural that some should have greater aptitude than others for the difficult and delicate operation of transmitting their thoughts through an intermediary, and of making suitable selection of evidential matter?”

In the Inspirations with Lisa Garr episode featuring celebrity medium James van Praagh (a Gaia talk show), James notes that not all spirits communicate the same. Just as some people develop their own mediumship abilities better than others, the same goes the other direction. Some discarnates are better at sending messages back to the living than others.

This perhaps throws a proverbial wrench in the field of mediumship research, as when we have people in our lives who pass, we really have no way of knowing if they’re going to be “good” at communicating back to us or not.


This more recent metanalysis looked at all the quantitative studies published in the 21st century, dating back to a few of the ones I mentioned earlier. It looked for studies using mediums that were in good mental health, socially well-adapted, and occupationally active. It also looked for studies using rigorous methods such as a “triple-blind” method, meaning the reading is done through a mediator who is blind to both sides.

Of the studies analyzed, the results were diverse. Many studies found dating back decades were thrown out due to less-rigorous standards. Cultural views on mediums were taken into consideration depending upon where the study was done.

Of the few that still stood, the researchers determined the results were heterogeneous, and more modern-day research was needed in this controversial field.

And so the research goes on…

Anybody with a Gaia subscription knows the research continues on and grows by the year. People get psychic readings every day, and if it were total bullshit, the fascination with studying the field wouldn’t be growing the way it is. I’m also a believer that, contrary to some popular belief, people really are not that dumb.

After my own experiences, I decided one day to bring it up to my therapist.

Hesitantly, I asked him what his views on mediumship and psychic phenomena were. I told him about my experiences and asked him if I was crazy.

A Jungian, he had, indeed, studied the field. “Is it objectively ‘real’?” he asks me rhetorically. “Who’s to say? However, it’s a common enough occurrence with a significant degree of consistency among those who experience it, that it is worthy of scientific examination.”

(He did not note that I was crazy, so that is good).



The Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) is a research organization founded in 1973 by Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell.

They research mind/body medicine, mind/matter interaction, and consciousness, and seek to explore the most profound mysteries of human existence using quantum physics, molecular biology, computer science, and psychology. (My fellow Gaia nerds probably know this one).

Dr. Helané Wahbeh is the current director of research at the IONS and has been practicing and researching channeling for decades.

Channeling is defined as accessing information beyond our conventional notions of space and time; mediumship is ultimately a type of channeling.

In this recent study, IONS analyzed the DNA of 13 high-functioning psychics with various channeling abilities against a control group. Researchers found the TNRC18 gene was significantly different in the channelers versus the controls. In the controls or those that said they didn’t have any channeling abilities, this gene had been mutated. In all of the psychics, the gene was in its original form.

IONS produces leading research in the fields of human consciousness, psychic abilities, and ultimately how humanity is deeply interconnected on levels we haven’t previously understood.


Mediumship Certifications

If you seek out a reading from a medium, you can indeed find “certified mediums.” The practice isn’t something that's regulated by the state as other healing and health modalities are, so there have got to be other outside sources that scrutinize the field and vet those that do it as a practice.

The Forever Family Foundation is a non-profit organization that screens and certifies mediums under controlled conditions. The Windbridge Research Center is another organization that has certified mediums in the past, however, they are no longer in operation. (Celebrity medium Laura Lynn Jackson is Windbridge-certified).

The Forever Family Foundation uses science-based examination methods to determine if their certification applicants can bring forth information without the use of deceptive or fraudulent means (such as “cold readings”).

Each medium is exposed to a variety of sitters who have trained ahead of time on how to score and evaluate each reading, in order to maintain the integrity of the program.

Windbridge’s process for certifying mediums involved a five-time blinded study that was peer-reviewed for integrity.

The protocol involves the medium, a sitter and their discarnate, and two experimenters. The sitters, or the person being read, do not hear the readings as they occur. The experimenter talking to the medium is also blinded to the information from the sitter. When the sitter is given the information from the reading to score, they are given their own reading plus a decoy, or a reading from another sitter, without knowing which is which.

Although they are no longer actively certifying mediums, you can still find a list of mediums that were certified by this process in the past on their website.

Mark Ireland is another source for certifying mediums who is still in practice. He also has a strict, scientifically-driven protocol for detecting who can actually read effectively and who is fraudulent.



Many people believe that until we can explain exactly how something works, it must not really exist.

However, there are many phenomena out there that we can’t explain the mechanisms behind, like any disease labeled “idiopathic” such as fibromyalgia, eczema, glaucoma, and Parkinson’s. Even gravity is simply known as an invisible force that keeps us stuck to the ground.

Reiki and other energy healing modalities are often dismissed because we can’t explain the exact mechanism to how they work, although there are over 200 studies that show Reiki works better than the placebo effect in many cases.

Why do we believe in this stuff, and why did we believe in it for centuries before the scientific method was adapted to it? Perhaps because it just works, somehow, on some unknown invisible level that is subjective to the one experiencing it.

Just because we can’t explain the how doesn’t mean that it’s not. There are a lot of things about our universe that we don’t know how it works, only that it does.

“The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence” Nikola Tesla

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