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Psychological Research Laboratories.

Charles (Chuck) Honorton and the late James S. McDonnell, CEO of McDonnell-Douglas Corporation, established Psychophysical Research Laboratories (PRL) in 1979. The laboratory in Princeton, NJ, opened in the fall of 1979 and closed ten years later in October, 1989. The primary research mission was "to increase the strength and reliability with which psi effects can be detected and studied under controlled conditions" (Psychophysical Research Laboratories, 1984, Sect. 1, p. 1).

Other articles in this memorial series about Chuck deal with details of the various lines of research begun or continued at PRL. I will try, instead, to suggest what it was like at PRL by talking about the major projects and the formal and informal research groups that resulted from who was there, when they were there, and what their research interests and strengths were.

The list of PRL staff and contributors is long. Don McCarthy was Chuck's long-time friend and constant formal and informal collaborator before, during, and after the PRL years. The regular research staff included at one time or another Chuck himself, Pat Barker, Rick Berger, Dianne Ferraro, George Hansen, Marta Quant, Nancy Sondow, Larry Tremmel, Mario Varvoglis, and me. Visiting scientists Dick Bierman, Lendell Braud, Christine Hardy, Alianna Maren, Marilyn Schiltz, and Zoltan Vassy were part of the full-time staff for as little as a month or as long as a year. There were Rider College student Laura Csogi, and support staff Lucy Levitcher and Linda Moore, as well as colleagues who worked elsewhere but formally collaborated in or consulted on PRL research: Daryl Bem, Robert Edelberg, Ed May, Diana Robinson, and David Saunders. Mathematician Norman Herzberg and computer wizard John Bridges were informal continuing collaborators. Robert Chevako, Gene Conover, Greg Johnstone, and Tron McConnell designed or built specific pieces of equipment and software. Michael Witunski was official liaison with our funding sponsors. Colleagues, journalists, and others visited for an afternoon or a day, joined us in discussion, and became research participants. And there were many other research participants who came for a single experimental session or for many sessions.

The degree of collaboration and joint work at PRL varied over the years. The research staff planned and worked collectively on most projects at first. Later, although everyone helped run ongoing experiments, staff tended to focus on their own projects. In the final years, as the permanent research staff dwindled, projects often involved external collaborators.

To some extent, this cycle reflected Chuck's strength in research rather than management skills. He wanted bright, creative people as his co-workers and collaborators. He also insisted on substantial control of research projects--what was done, and how. Research staff chosen for enthusiasm and creativity also wanted both collaboration and control of their own projects. The resulting tension had both good and bad effects. The limits on individual projects and lines of research produced a fair amount of coherently connected work along a few major lines. Each major line benefited from everybody's input and from sub-projects reflecting individual staff members' interests. At the same time, those limits on how far individual staff could pursue their own lines and "own" their contributions aborted some projects and led to some rancorous partings.

Another pattern in PRL's work over the ten years is a rising curve of development and expansion, followed by fruition and major results from the key projects, and then a winding down that focused on summarizing already-completed work with few new projects.

Two of PRL's major lines of research had been pursued by Chuck at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. One was the ganzfeld free-response work, begun in the early 1970s. The other was the use of computerized game-like testing situations to engage participants' interest.(1) A third major line, foreshadowed in earlier work by Chuck and other PRL staff and formalized at PRL, was the use of statistical meta-analytic techniques to summarize and explore both the research literature and clusters of related PRL studies. All three lines drew on the work of researchers elsewhere, of course, and were pursued by others during the PRL years, but I think it is fair to say that PRL's concentration in these areas played a major role in establishing methods and approaches.

A fourth ongoing PRL project, woven through the other three, was our involvement in parapsychology's long-standing study of the relationship between research participants' characteristics and their psi-test performance.(2) PRL's contributions, later used in other laboratories as well, include an ongoing survey of participant demographics and attitudes (the "PRL Participant Information Form"), and regular use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (McCaulley, 1977).

All of this was stitched together by Chuck's long-range goal of providing experimental parapsychology with more robust results to permit more effective theorizing and better understanding. The major research projects were all related to this goal, in an attempt to identify "recipes" of research procedures and participant characteristics that most consistently produced good performance on the psi tests. So also was the work to develop standard computerized protocols for experiments at PRL and other laboratories. The idea was to make it easy to keep basic procedures the same from laboratory to laboratory and, hopefully, increase the likelihood of getting similar results.

Some of the initial PRL research staff were veterans of Chuck's Maimonides projects. Larry Tremmel, who was at PRL only briefly, was a long-time Maimonides volunteer who worked on some of the early psi-testing computer games. Mario Varvoglis was also a volunteer researcher. Pat Barker, administrative assistant of the Maimonides lab between 1971 and 1975, joined PRL shortly after it opened, as both administrative assistant and researcher.

Nancy Sondow, on the other hand, had done experiments at the American Society for Psychical Research, and visiting researcher Lendell Braud had already independently established herself in psychological and parapsychological research.

Equipment also came from the Maimonides lab to PRL, such as the Cromemco System Three computer in its bookshelf-sized rack (soon to be replaced by typewriter-sized but equally powerful Apple II computers), and the large, double-walled and electronically shielded sound isolation chamber used as the percipient's room in ganzfeld studies and the early computer-games research.

The first projects were continuations of Maimonides work: a ganzfeld series using the nonautomated Maimonides protocol (Sondow, Braud, & Barker, 1982), and two computer games, "PK Meter" (Honorton, Barker, & Sondow, 1983) and "Psi Trek."(3). "PK Meter," in particular, was a prototype for later PRL work. It used an RNG (random number generator) designed by Ed May for the Cromemco computer. The study's design involved both "feedback" RNG runs whose results were displayed to the participants and "silent," nondisplayed runs. The computer program that controlled participants' assignment to experimental conditions became the prototype for later experiments' "Series Manager" programs. The "Series Manager" and feedback/silent comparison were used in all subsequent PRL RNG research, including the computerized psi tasks that were part of the PsiLab //[TM] RNG and software package made available to other labs and still in use at some of them.

Meanwhile, Lendell completed her six-month term as visiting scientist and returned to Texas. Mario designed and ran a complex computer-controlled experiment involving both RNG and EEG feedback that would become his doctoral dissertation (Varvoglis & McCarthy, 1986); the computer program for this study was one of Don McCarthy's contributions to the early PRL research. Rick Berger and I joined the research staff late in 1981. The development and expansion stage continued through 1982 and into 1983, firming up the projects that would characterize PRL research for the next six years.

A lot of effort went into hardware and software for the computer-controlled automated ganzfeld procedure, which became more and more refined over the years as Rick focused on getting the hardware and software in place and operating properly.(4) Still pictures from the set of ganzfeld targets used in the Maimonides studies (Honorton, 1975) were videotaped; so were many short segments from movies and television programs selected to introduce sound and motion into the ganzfeld target sets. Special videotape players controlled by the Apple computers were purchased and installed, computer-controlled switches were constructed for the microphones and tape recorders, and initial versions of programs to coordinate it all were written. By 1982, a "debugging" series of ganzfeld trials became part of the development and fine-tuning.

Several new computer-game psi-testing tasks were designed during this early period to use Ed May's second generation of RNGs, built for the Apple 11 computers. Some, like "Volition" and "Psi Invaders," were developed further into long-running experimental series and were later included in the PsiLab //[TM] package developed for use at other laboratories. Others were shorter lived: "Hidden Target" never became a formal experiment, and "Psi Ball" was dropped after two test series suggested that it was not likely to produce strong results (Schechter, Barker, & Varvoglis, 1983, 1984). Another part of the RNG-research development was a series of programs that Don designed and wrote to evaluate the RNGs' randomness. Like "Volition" and "Psi Invaders," later versions of this RNG-testing software became part of PsiLab //[TM].

The methods and approach for measuring participant characteristics were also developed in the first few years. The Participant Information Form (PIF) was written, and several ways to measure participants' personality traits were considered. We selected the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and, with permission from the MBTI's developers and publisher, wrote a computer program to administer and score the instrument. A variation of this program administered a special version (Stanford & Angelini, 1983) of the Tellegen Differential Personality Questionnaire's Absorption scale (Tellegen & Atkinson, 1974). Most participants in ganzfeld and RNG computer-game sessions completed all three of these instruments.

Group feeling was high during much of this first stage. There were regular meetings and a lot of collaborative design. All the research staff were at least partly involved in each project, planning, designing and producing tests, software, and gadgets, and as experimenters and participants in "debug" trials of the ganzfeld and computer-game procedures. We did have individual responsibilities and specialties--Chuck, Pat, Mario, Lendell, and Nancy were most familiar with ganzfeld procedure; Lendell worked with ganzfeld target characteristics and percipients' emotional states; Mario and Rick were the gadgeteers, and Mario, the audiovisual expert; Nancy and Pat developed the PIF; Chuck designed the "Hidden Target," "Psi Invaders," and "Volition" games; I focused on the MBTI and on "PsiBall." We tried to stay familiar with each others' projects and progress, and gave and received lots of advice. Chuck always stated the final decisions on procedures and directions but, at first, planning was often a group process.

As the procedures that were developed in this stage became formal experiments, however, there was less and less group planning. By 1983, the group sessions stopped, and project planning and evaluation usually involved only Chuck and the staffers working on the particular task, with the key decisions clearly Chuck's. Although we all continued to be experimenters and participants in most projects, researchers gradually began to focus more and more on their own tasks.

The period between 1982 and 1985 was dominated by Chuck's debate with Ray Hyman about the interpretation and solidity of the ganzfeld data. Late in 1981 Chuck provided Ray with copies of existing ganzfeld studies for a review paper to be presented at the 1982 joint conference of the Parapsychological Association and the Society for Psychical Research. Ray's review was quite critical (Hyman, 1983), estimating that the actual "success rate" in these studies was much lower than Chuck claimed and that procedural flaws and poor statistical analysis made even the reduced estimate meaningless. A vigorous correspondence developed, as Ray and Chuck debated early drafts of Ray's paper and Chuck began to prepare a response that criticized and offered counterarguments to Ray's review decisions, statistical analyses, and classification of procedural flaws (Honorton, 1983). By the end of the conference, Chuck and Ray had agreed to write more complete reviews, to be published together in the Journal of Parapsychology (Honorton, 1985; Hyman 1985). Eventually, they "agreed to disagree" and to hope that the debate had improved the quality of current and future ganzfeld research and the ways parapsychologists and critics argue (Hyman & Honorton, 1986).

The ganzfeld debate involved the entire research staff. Nancy gathered and reread the ganzfeld literature and made the preliminary classifications for the analyses of procedural flaws. We discussed Ray's letters and phone calls at length, trying to make sure we understood his arguments and clarifying our disagreements with them. Everyone contributed to or commented on drafts of responses and of Chuck's Journal of Parapsychology paper. And Chuck and I began exploring new methods for statistical literature review.

This was not Chuck's or my first attempt at statistical literature review,(5) but it was the first in which we used techniques of what is now called "meta-analysis" (e.g., Glass, McGaw, & Smith, 1981; Rosenthal, 1984). Karlis Osis's (1982) review led us to Glass, McGaw, and Smith's book, and meta-analytic methods quickly became a standard part of PRL research. Reports of PRL studies included meta-analytic summaries and reported effect sizes as well as the results of significance tests. Much of Chuck's later work involved meta-analytic literature reviews. Attempts to encourage this approach in parapsychology included work on meta-analytic methods (McCarthy & Schechter, 1986), a review of ESP studies involving hypnotic induction Schechter, 1984), a roundtable at the 1984 Parapsychological Association convention,(6) and a symposium held at PRL in November 1984 with Robert Rosenthal as guest speaker.

Ganzfeld and computer-game research continued during this period, and data were presented at Parapsychological Association (PA) meetings. Comparisons of "feedback" and "silent" RNG data in "Volition," "Psi Invaders," and "PsiBall" showed interesting similarites across the three games (Berger, Schechter, & Honorton, 1986) with stronger results in the no-feedback condition. The paper included a review of RNG studies elsewhere that compared feedback and no-feedback conditions. In a related paper, Mario dealt with the theoretical implications of "silent" RNG results for the conformance-behavior and observational models of psi effects (Varvoglis, 1986). later analyses of "Volition" and "Psi Invaders" data suggested systematic displacement relationships between the feedback and silent RNG results (Schechter, 1987a).

Ganzfeld "first timers" (i.e., initial session) results were also reported at PA meetings (Honorton et al., 1986; Honorton & Schechter, 1987) and at a conference of the Association for Psychological Type, the MBTI researchers' and users' association (Honorton & Schechter, 1985). The data suggested that ganzfeld performance was related to participant characteristics measured by the PIF and the MBTI and to interactions between these characteristics and experimental conditions, such as whether the "sender" for the session was a PRL staff member or someone brought by the percipient.

Interactions with participant characteristics also occurred in the computer games data (Berger, Schechter, & Honorton, 1986; Schechter, Honorton, Barker, & Varvoglis, 1984). In PRL Annual Reports, Pat and I regularly summarized the PIF and MBTI data for all participants, including otherwise unpublished analyses such as factors related to belief in psi (Psychophysical Research Laboratories, 1986, pp. 119-130). An early summary of PRL participant characteristics was reported at a meeting of the Southeastern Regional Parapsychological Association (Barker & Schechter, 1983, see pp. 62-63). Later, as other labs began to use both the PIF and the MBTI, a SERPA panel reported on similarities and differences between PRL and Institute for Parapsychology participants (Barker et al., 1985, see pp. 263-264).

Meanwhile, RNG and computer-game development continued. Dick Bierman, of the Research Institute for Parapsychology and Physics (RIPP) in Amsterdam spent a month at PRL as Visiting Scientist in 1983. As a result, Rick began comparing the performance of RIPP's RNG design with Ed May's RNGs that we had been using. After extensive testing, and further consultation with Robert Chevako of the electronics engineering firm NWS Associates, PRL adopted a modified version of the RIPP design.

Rick also refined the "Psi Invaders" and "Volition" programs, and began a series of studies later completed at Science Unlimited Research Foundation (SURF) in San Antonio, Texas (Berger, 1988a, 1988b). Mario began developing a sophisticated video-feedback game we called "PK Dancers," in which the strong RNG scores moved an animated image through a series of dance moves. Plans for this game, never completed at PRL, included personalizing the dance image with a computerized portrait of the participant's face. I designed the ESP game "Dowser," which reached the preliminary data-gathering stage but also never became a formal study. Chuck began work on ESPercise[TM], a four-choice ESP test later used in experiments with high-scoring participant Malcolm Bessent (Honorton, 1987).

"Volition" and "Psi Invaders" also became part of the PsiLab//[TM] package for computerized psi testing (Berger & Honorton, 1985). PsiLab//[TM] included the two computer-game PK tests and their "Series Manager" and utility software, a PRL/RIPP RNG, the RNG-evaluation software that Don had developed, and a manual written by Rick, Don, and me. In 1986, PsiLab //[TM] packages were in 17 different laboratories. Software for preliminary versions of ESPerciser and "Dowser" were included in some later packages. Several laboratories also purchased the PsiLab //[TM] MBTI module which included software for computerized administration, a user's manual, and a licensing fee to the test's publisher.

PRL research during these years attracted some national publicity beyond the parapsychological community. Material for an ABC-TV Nightline segment on parapsychological research was filmed early in 1984. Science writer Dan Cohen published a book about laboratory research in psi featuring PRL ganzfeld and computer-game research, for junior high school readers (Cohen, 1986).

New ganzfeld experiments were added to the "first timers" series after 1983. One compared percipients' performance with static (still pictures) and dynamic (movie and television clips) targets. Another focused on percipients who had done particularly well in their initial session. In a third series, a variation on the "first timers" protocol let percipients choose not to have a "sender" (only two selected this option). Data from these, as well as the regular "first timers" series, are summarized in Honorton et al. (1990). In addition, Rick began a series in which both the experimenter and the percipient independently judged the targets, but this series was never completed.

Other incomplete studies included a series of experiments related to William Braud's "allobiofeedback" research at Mind Science Foundation (MSF) in San Antonio (Braud & Schlitz, 1983). These studies used human psychophysiological reactions such as the galvanic skin response (GSR) as the target in a PK-testing protocol. After a visit to MSF in 1983, and working with consultant Robert Edelberg, a leading GSR researcher at Rutgers University Medical School, we began the necessary instrumentation but never brought the project far enough to collect data. In another project, David Saunders, a statistician in the Princeton area, used the Gittinger Personality Assessment System (Winne & Gittinger, 1973) to evaluate selected PRL participants. Half of these participants had scored well in PRL studies and the other half had scored poorly, and David was not to know the scoring patterns until he finished his evaluation. Some PAS data were collected, but this was never finished as a PRL project.

By the fall of 1986, most of the original research staff were gone. Nancy left early in 1983 and completed her dissertation research using American Society for Psychical Research facilities. Rick, Mario, and Pat all left in 1985. Rick became Research Associate at SURF. Mario and Christine Hardy, PRL Visiting Scientist during 1985, married and moved to France where they continued their parapsychological work. Pat and her husband moved to Colorado. My wife and I left in 1986, also for Colorado.

Meanwhile, Marta Quant and George Hansen became PRL researchers. Marta worked primarily as a ganzfeld experimenter. George, with a background of parapsychological research and writing at the Institute for Parapsychology, participated in ganzfeld and computer-game research and programming and began a series of Monte Carlo simulations to evaluate some of the statistical methods used in the research (Hansen, 1986, 1987a, 1987b; Hansen & Utts, 1987). He continued his writing on parapsychology's association with conjuring and criticism (Hansen, 1985, 1988, 1990).

The visiting scientists during 1985 and 1986 focused mainly on their own projects. Christine took time off from her doctoral studies at the Sorbonne to concentrate on computer programs adapting some traditional prediction methods as psi tests. Zoltan Vassy, visiting from Hungary for a year, continued his previous research on the effects of sequence complexity in ESP tests with pseudorandom number sequences (Vassy, 1986). Alianna Maren applied her experience in pattern recognition research to analyzing ganzfeld percipients' mentation for complex matches to the ESP target (Maren, 1987). None of these projects became part of ongoing PRL research protocols or analyses.

In the last few years, between 1987 and 1989, PRL research became even more explicitly projects that were Chuck's, with assistance from the remaining members of the research staff. George and Marta served as experimenters, and George maintained equipment and software and worked on Monte Carlo projects. When Marta left, Dianne Ferrari, who had been a Rider College student intern at PRL for a term, joined the research staff half-time.

Meta-analytic reviews were a primary focus. In one review, Chuck reexamined all of the PRL ganzfeld studies and compared them with the earlier ganzfeld research he had reviewed for the Hyman-Honorton debate (Honorton et al., 1990). Some relationships between experimental conditions and psi-test performance were present in both the PRL and non-PRL work (Broughton, Kanthamani, & Khilji, 1990; Honorton, 1992).

Other meta-analyses covered a wider range of experimental procedures. With Dianne's help, Chuck reviewed and statistically evaluated the forced-choice precognition research since 1935 (Honorton & Ferrari, 1989); with Cornell University psychologist Daryl Bem, they examined studies of extraversion and performance in ESP tests (Honorton, Ferrari, & Bem, 1992).

The few new experiments used existing ganzfeld and computer-game procedures with special participants. One was the ESPerciser[TM] series with Malcolm Bessent, an outstanding participant and long-time friend (Honorton, 1987). Visiting scientist Marilyn Schlitz, then at Mind Science Foundation, helped to obtain participants and to design a ganzfeld series with students from the Juilliard School of Performing Arts in New York (Schlitz & Honorton, 1992). Marilyn served as experimenter for some sessions and as "sender" for others.

Encounters with parapsychology's critics continued. In 1986, Chuck participated in a workshop on the quality and potential of parapsychological research, sponsored by the Office of Technology Assessment of the United States Congress (International Security and Commerce Program, 1988). Other participants were James Alcock, Daryl Bem, Ray Hyman, Robert Jahn, John Palmer, Ted Rockwell, Marcello Truzzi, and Jessica Utts. Around the same time, Chuck, John, and Jessica wrote the Parapsychological Association's official reply to the National Research Council's highly critical report on parapsychological research (Palmer, Honorton, & Utts, 1989).

By 1989, there were no new McDonnell-based funds. Chuck ran the lab on the money that was left in the PRL account and some additional, smaller grants from the Fetzer Foundation, the ASPR, and the Parapsychology Foundation. In October the lab closed. Chuck gave the large sound isolation chamber used in the ganzfeld studies to the Fetzer Foundation; the computer-controlled audiovisual equipment went to the Institute for Parapsychology in Durham, NC. Dianne left the field. George worked as a consulting engineer, continued writing about conjuring, criticism, and parapsychology, and began some spontaneous case research (Maher & Hansen, 1992).

Chuck took the PRL archives and some of the computer equipment to his home, where he continued to analyze data and write. He reported the extraversion meta-analysis and collaborated with Marilyn on the "Juillard-student" ganzfeld report. In the fall of 199 1, Chuck left New Jersey for Edinburgh, Scotland, and the Phd program at the University of Edinburgh.

PRL was a combination of people and projects. So is its legacy. Chuck's vision and forcefulness attracted people to work with him on his projects and incorporate the energy and shared information as they pursued their own. The intense focus on his own vision led some to leave so they could take that common core in their own directions, and others to prefer tapping into it by occasional collaboration. Many who were never formally involved in PRL research have responded to its quality and scope by adapting methods and approaches for their own work. It is interesting to watch the effects of contact with PRL, and with Chuck, during the PRL years as they continue to develop.

I wish to thank Pat Barker, Rick Berger, George Hansen, Don McCarthy, and Nancy Sondow, who reminded me of things I'd forgotten and filled in details I didn't know. I also thank Pat and Don, and Jacquelyn Schechter, for their comments on early drafts.

This is a personal memoir. Others who were at PRL might have stressed things I've left out, or made different points. I apologize for inadvertent errors or omissions. (1) See McCarthy (1982) for a discussion of the overall impact of microcomputers on parapsychological research. (2) See, for example, Palmer's (1977, 1978) and Schmeidler's (1988) general reviews of individual-differences research in parapsychology. (3) Maimonides work on "Psi Trek" was reported by Honorton and Tremmel 1980). The PRL version of the project was never completed. (4) See Berger & Honorton (1985) for a formal description of the fully developed version. (5) See Schechter (1987b) for references to earlier statistical reviews of parapsychological research. (6) The roundtable Meta-Analysis: integrating Results Across Studies" is summarized in white and Solfvin (1985), pp. 112-118. Participapants included Irvin Child Chuck Honorton, Ray Hyman, John Palmer, and Ephraim Schechter (chair). (7) Only the most recent or most complete version of a paper is cited.


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Author:Schechter, Ephraim I.
Publication:The Journal of Parapsychology
Article Type:Biography
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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