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Christopher French

Staff details

PositionProfessor of Psychology
Department Psychology
Email c.french (@gold.ac.uk)
Phone+44 (0)20 7919 7882
Twitter@ChrisCFrench
Christopher French

Summary

I founded the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit (APRU) at Goldsmiths in the year 2000. Prior to that, I had carried out research in a wide range of different areas, including cerebral hemispheric differences, computerised assessment, and cognition and emotion, but from a young age I was fascinated by claims of the paranormal. By setting up the APRU, I was able to focus upon this fascinating aspect of human experience. Up until early adulthood, I was myself a firm believer in the paranormal. However, the more I learned about psychology the more I appreciated our potential for fooling ourselves. Although our cognitive systems are truly amazing, they are also subject to various cognitive biases that can lead us to misperceive, misremember and misinterpret situations in such a way that we might think we have experienced something paranormal when in fact we have not.

Research in the APRU can be broadly divided into two categories. The main strand involves research that focuses upon attempting to develop and test non-paranormal explanations for ostensibly paranormal experiences, such as precognition, telepathy, psychokinesis – even alien abduction claims. A secondary, but still important, strand focuses upon attempting to directly test paranormal claims including people claiming to have psychic abilities (to date, no one has been able to demonstrate any such ability in our tests).

Although research into paranormal and related topics in inherently fascinating, the findings often have wider implications. For example, a strong case can be made that many alien abduction claims are based upon false memories. It is worth noting that the same techniques are used to “recover” allegedly repressed memories of Satanic ritual abuse, strongly supporting the claim that claims of such abuse are almost certainly also false memories. For more on our research, check out the APRU’s web pages: http://www.gold.ac.uk/apru/

I am a member of both the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit and the Forensic Psychology Unit at Goldsmiths.

College Appointments

Professor of Psychology
Associate Pro-Warden (Research Integrity)
Coordinator of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit
Chair of College Research Ethics and Integrity Sub-Committee
Co-Chair of Public Engagement Advisory Group
Research and Enterprise Committee
Graduate School Board
ESRC Doctoral Training Centre Management Board

Membership of Professional Societies:

Fellow of the British Psychological Society
Scientific Advisory Board of the British False Memory Society
Director of Centre for Inquiry UK 
Patron of the British Humanist Association
Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
Good Thinking Society Advisory Board

Academic career

2013 – Associate Pro-Warden (Research Integrity)
2002 – Professor of Psychology
1998 – Reader - Goldsmiths
1997-2000 – Head of Goldsmiths Psychology Department
1991 – Senior Lecturer – Goldsmiths
1985 – Lecturer - Goldsmiths
1984 – Research Fellow, Hatfield Polytechnic
1982 – Research Associate, University of Leicester
1981 – Lecturer, Coventry Polytechnic
1978-1981 – PhD, University of Leicester (awarded 1983)
1977 – Psychology Assistant, University of Bangor
1974-1977 – BA (Hons) Psychology, University of Manchester

Prof Chris French Full Curriculum Vitae

On the web

• Twitter account - http://twitter.com/chriscfrench  
• Personal blog - http://www.theguardian.com/profile/chris-french  
• Lab homepage - http://www.gold.ac.uk/apru  
• ResearchGate - https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Christopher_French2  
• Academia.Edu - https://goldsmiths.academia.edu/ChrisFrench  
• Google Scholar - https://scholar.google.co.uk/citations?user=LQOJGZkAAAAJ&hl=en  
• Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_French  

 

Research Interests

Anomalistic psychology primarily focuses upon developing and, wherever possible, empirically testing non-paranormal explanations for ostensibly paranormal experiences. The definition of paranormal used by anomalistic psychologists is wider than the strict definition typically adopted by parapsychologists (i.e., extrasensory perception, psychokinesis, life-after-death) and essentially includes pretty much everything in the “weird and wonderful” category including, for example, alien abduction claims, astrology, cryptozoology, and pseudoscientific topics in general.

Some of the topics of interest to anomalistic psychologists would not be considered to be “paranormal” by anyone, such as the dubious “memory recovery” techniques used in certain forms of psychotherapy than can sometimes lead to the formation of false memories of childhood sexual abuse in clients with no prior memories of such abuse. The reason for this is that exactly the same “memory recovery” techniques are also used to “recover” memories of “past-lives” and alien abduction.

In recent years our research has tended to focus upon three areas. The first is false memories in both anomalistic and non-anomalistic contexts. With respect to the latter, the reliability (or otherwise) of human memory is of central importance given that when it comes to assessing paranormal claims, one is usually dealing with someone’s report of an event rather than the event itself. The second area is that of the psychology of belief in conspiracies. It turns out that many of the cognitive biases that correlate with belief in the paranormal also correlate with conspiracism. The final topic is that of sleep paralysis, a common hallucinatory experience that can sometimes lead people to believe that they have had a supernatural encounter or been abducted by aliens.

We also sometimes directly test paranormal claims such as those from people claiming to possess extraordinary psychic abilities (e.g., to be able to do psychic readings on complete strangers or to routinely dream about future events). We also sometimes carry out experimental tests of extrasensory perception and psychokinesis amongst large groups of the general population.

Some of our research is only indirectly related to paranormal topics, such as the genetic basis for susceptibility to sleep paralysis or the implications of misconceptions about memory amongst the general public and professionals for the legal system.

I am Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit (http://www.gold.ac.uk/apru/) and a member of the Forensic Psychology Unit (http://www.gold.ac.uk/forensic-psychology-unit/).


Publication highlights:

Brotherton, R., & French, C. C. (2015). Intention seekers: Conspiracy theories and biased attributions of intentionality. PLoS ONE 10(5): e0124125. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0124125

Denis, D., French, C. C., Rowe, R., Zavos, H. M. S., Nolan, P. M., Parsons, M. J., & Gregory, A. M. (2015). A twin and molecular genetics study of sleep paralysis and associated factors. Journal of Sleep Research, 24, 438-446. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jsr.12282/full

French, C. C., & Stone, A. (2014). Anomalistic Psychology: Exploring Paranormal Belief and Experience. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. https://he.palgrave.com/page/detail/?sf1=barcode&st1=9781403995711

Ritchie, S. J., Wiseman, R., & French, C. C. (2012). Failing the future: Three unsuccessful attempts to replicate Bem’s ‘retroactive facilitation of recall’ effect. PLoS ONE, 7(3): e33423. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033423 http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0033423


Wilson, K., & French, C. C. (2014). Magic and memory: Using conjuring to explore the effects of suggestion, social influence and paranormal belief on eyewitness testimony for an ostensibly paranormal event. Frontiers in Psychology: Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. 5:1289. http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01289/abstract

 

List of present and former students

• Joan Painter (PhD awarded 1995): Imaginal processing in the two cerebral hemispheres: A computational investigation.
• Ed Keogh (PhD awarded 1997): The interactive effects of state and trait anxiety on attention: Testing Eysenck’s hypervigilance theory.
• George Georgiou (PhD awarded 2001): Anxiety, awareness and attention: A post-conscious bias?
• Rachel Fulcher (MPhil awarded 2001): The role of intuition in psychotherapy.
• Susan Crawley (PhD awarded 2002): Daydream believers? Reality monitoring, fantasy proneness and paranormal belief/experience.
• Caroline Hunt (PhD awarded 2004): Anxiety-related biases in children.
• Krissy Wilson (PhD awarded 2006): The effects of memory conformity and belief upon eyewitness testimony of ostensibly paranormal events.
• Itai Ivtzan (PhD awarded 2010): Exploring possible direct effects of PK upon the environment.
• Karen Hatton (PhD awarded 2013): Scepticism and credulity in childhood.
• Louie Savva (PhD awarded 2014): Is some of the evidence for ostensible precognition indicative of Darwinian adaptation to retrocausal influences?
• Robert Brotherton (PhD awarded 2014): Measurement issues and the role of cognitive biases in conspiracist ideation.
• Rosie Waterhouse (PhD by Prior Publication, City University, awarded 2014): Satanic abuse, false memories, weird beliefs and moral panics: Anatomy of a 24-year investigation.
• Barbara Rowlands (PhD by Prior Publication, City University, awarded 2015): The Emperor’s New Clothes: Media representations of complementary and alternative medicine, 1990-2005.
• Duncan Colvin (currently registered for PhD): Examining factors associated with belief change.
• Christopher Thresher-Andrews (currently registered for PhD): The psychology of belief in conspiracy theories.

 

OUTREACH 

From the outset, one of the aims of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit was public engagement via the media and public events. Given that the topics covered within anomalistic psychology are not just inherently fascinating in their own right, they are also of relevance to wider topics such as current affairs, religion and science in general, it is not surprising that many such opportunities arise (see full list). I frequently appear on current affairs programmes (e.g., Newsnight, Today, PM), science programmes (e.g., Equinox, All in the Mind), and religious programmes (e.g., The Big Questions, Beyond Belief), as well as numerous daytime TV chat shows (e.g., This Morning, BBC Breakfast, Richard and Judy). I have taken part in numerous one-off documentaries as well as series (e.g., Haunted Homes, Britain’s Psychic Challenge).

I organise the APRU Invited Speaker Series (http://www.gold.ac.uk/apru/speakers/) as well as Greenwich Skeptics in the Pub (http://greenwich.skepticsinthepub.org). Both series are open to the public. In addition to this, I work with a number of other groups to co-organise conferences and events including the Centre for Inquiry UK (http://centreforinquiry.org.uk), the Association for Skeptical Enquiry (http://www.aske-skeptics.org.uk), and the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (http://www.assap.ac.uk). I have collaborated with artists and film-makers on sci-art projects that engage the public in innovative ways, most notably AR Hopwood on the False Memory Archive (http://www.falsememoryarchive.com) and Carla MacKinnon on the Sleep Paralysis Project (http://www.thesleepparalysisproject.org). I am an Editorial Advisor for the Skeptic magazine (https://www.skeptic.org.uk) and I write for the Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/profile/chris-french) and the Conversation (https://theconversation.com/profiles/christopher-french-168769 ). 

 

Media coverage (since 2011)

Interviewed on astrology by Dot Davies on BBC Radio Wales, 4/3/16.

Quoted on Satanic panics in Fabulous magazine (free with Sun on Sunday), 28/2/16. Satan in suburbia. http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/fabulous/6955861/SATAN-IN-SUBURBIA-The-British-children-brainwashed-by-a-satanic-cult.html 

Quoted on numerology in Express online, 4/2/16. Can choosing a new name really change your future? http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/life/640730/choosing-new-name-change-future-numerology 

Quoted on alien abduction claims in Mail Online, 21/1/16. What were these military planes chasing? Mystery surrounds images of two fighter jets following a UFO in Bulgaria. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3410786/What-military-planes-chasing-Mystery-surrounds-images-two-fighter-jets-following-UFO-Bulgaria.html 

2015
Interview on alien abduction claims and false memories with John Cadogan and Anna Usher on Sydney Radio’s 2UE programme, 29/12/15.

Interview on spectrophilia (sex with ghosts!) in Mail Online, 16/11/15. The women who say they've had affairs with GHOSTS: They're not mad, but respectable twenty-somethings who say spooks are better lovers than real men. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3317895/The-women-say-ve-affairs-GHOSTS-not-mad-respectable-twenty-somethings-say-spooks-better-lovers-real-men.html#ixzz3retz53Kd 

Guardian Science Weekly podcast: Why are conspiracy theories so attractive? http://www.theguardian.com/science/audio/2015/nov/13/conspiracy-theories-david-icke  13 November 2015

Interview on mass hysteria for Yorkshire Post, 13/11/15. Why DID 40 pupils collapse after Ripon school’s Armistice Day service? http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/main-topics/education/why-did-40-pupils-collapse-after-ripon-school-s-armistice-day-service-1-7566809 

Interview on Friday the 13th and other superstitions for Perry Spiller, BBC Radio Stoke, 13/11/15. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p036jv8k#play  (about 1 hour 50 min in)

Interview for Vice on doppelgangers, 3/11/15. The time when you’re most likely to see your doppelganger. http://www.vice.com/en_se/read/the-time-when-youre-most-likely-to-see-your-doppelgnger-234 

Interview for Daily Mirror, 30/10/15. Halloween horrors such as ghosts, orbs and ouijia boards have terrified for years - but are they real? http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/halloween-horrors-ghosts-orbs-ouijia-6729663 

Interview on sleep paralysis, Mail Online, 22 October 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3283884/The-evil-spirits-visit-sleeping-real-leave-sufferers-paralysed-terror-new-documentary-reveals-cause.html 

Interview on sleep paralysis, Evening Standard, 12 October 2015. http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/health/a-terrifying-phenomenon-how-a-third-of-britons-are-suffering-from-sleep-paralysis-a3087891.html 

Interview with Alan Martin for Alphr article on “Parapsychology: The rise and fall of paranormal experimentation”, 20 August 2015. http://www.alphr.com/science/1001390/parapsychology-the-rise-and-fall-of-paranormal-experimentation 

Interview on false memories for Past Imperfect, Radio 4, 23 July 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b062kx4x 

Interview on near-death experiences for the Scottish Sun, published 8 July 2015. http://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/scotsol/homepage/6534021/Weve-all-seen-the-afterlife.html 

Interview with Claudia Hammond, All in the Mind, Radio 4, on the psychology of belief in conspiracies, 26 May 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05vzyst 

Interview with Jonathan McCrae on sleep paralysis for Newstalk, Ireland, 2 May 2015.

Interview with Peter Allen on ghosts, 5 Live Daily, 3 April 2015.

Interview on the use of so-called “lie-detectors” in the management of sex offenders, Beating the Detector, Radio 4, 31 March 2015 (repeated 1 April 2015). http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05nvg7p 

Interview on spiritualism, The One Show, BBC1, broadcast, 9 March 2015.

Interview with comedy (pseudo-)psychic Ian D Montford (aka Tom Binns), Comedy Club Interviews, 26 February 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b054bsc5 

Interview with Evan Davies, Newsnight, BBC2, on false memories, 10 February 2015.

2014

Interview with Claudia Hammond, All in the Mind, Radio 4, on hypnosis, automatic writing, magic and memory, 23 December 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04vf36p 

Interview on eyewitness testimony and pareidolia for Loch Ness Monster: The Missing Evidence on Channel 5, first broadcast 24 November 2014. http://www.channel5.com/shows/conspiracy-the-missing-evidence/episodes/loch-ness-monstermissing-evidence 

Comment on psychics in The Sun, 23 November 2014.

Interview about ghosts with Nicky Campbell on 5 Live Breakfast, 7 November 2014.

BBC 5 Live Science podcast: Supernatural http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/drkarl  1 November 2014

Interview with John Fardy, Newstalk, Ireland, on memory for the paranormal, 25 October 2014.

Guardian Science Weekly podcast: Halloween special: the science of scary apparitions http://www.theguardian.com/science/audio/2014/oct/20/halloween-special-science-scary-apparitions-podcast  20 October 2014

Interview on This Morning, ITV1, on ghosts, 10 September 2014.

Discussant on the soul and “life after death” on BBC1’s The Big Questions, 1 June 2014.

Two interviews on David Cameron’s claim that Britain is “Christian nation” for Sky News, plus a discussion on same topic for BBC News Channel and one for Five Live, 22 April 2014.

Interview on the paranormal for Radio Islam, 1 February 2014.

Interview on psychics for ITV’s Lorraine, 7 January 2014.

2013

Interview and psychological testing of Marina Chapman for National Geographic’s The Woman Raised by Monkeys (first broadcast, 12 December 2013).

Interview with John Sopel on pareidolia for BBC Worldwide’s Global programme, 4 December 2013.

Interview with Sean Moncrieff on anomalistic psychology for Ireland’s Talk Radio show, The Moncrieff Show, 3 December, 2013.

Interview re. Rendlesham Forest UFO for ITV’s Mystery Map, broadcast 20 November 2013.

Interview with John Sopel on false memories for BBC Worldwide’s Global programme, 17 October 2013.

Interview featured in The Night Visiting, BBC Radio 4, 1 October 2013.

Discussant on BBC Radio 4’s Beyond Belief programme (on near-death experiences), broadcast 9 September 2013.

Guardian Science Weekly podcast: The waking nightmare of sleep paralysis. http://www.theguardian.com/science/audio/2013/aug/05/podcast-science-weekly-sleep-paralysis 5 August 2013

Interview on This Morning, ITV1, on near-death experiences, 16/5/13

Interview on This Morning, ITV1, on alien abduction, 11/3/13

Interview on This Morning, ITV1, on sex with aliens(!), 13/3/13

2012

Interview for Good Morning Scotland for BBC Radio Scotland, on end-of-the-world predictions, 22/12/12

Interview for Breakfast (BBC Radio 5 Live) on end-of-the-world predictions, 21/12/12

Interview on This Morning, ITV1, on automatic writing, 16/11/12

MyView (on automatic writing) in The Sun, http://bit.ly/SUN2RM, 9/11/12


Special Section: Coverage of Halloween Challenge 2012 (carried out at Goldsmiths with Simon Singh and Michael Marshall)

News
• Daily Mail - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2226129/Two-professional-mediums-fail-test-demonstrate-psychic-powers-laboratory-conditions.html?ito=feeds-newsxml  
• Guardian - http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/oct/31/halloween-challenge-psychics-scientific-trial?newsfeed=true 
• Independent - http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/they-didnt-see-that-coming-psychics-fail-scientific-test-8270025.html 
• Huffington Post - http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/10/31/mediums-patricia-putt-kim-whitton-fail-halloween-psychic-_n_2048875.html 
• Times Higher - http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=421682&c=1 
• BBC Online - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-20145664 
• 4rfv - http://www.4rfv.co.uk/nationalnews.asp?id=153202 
• Croatia - http://www.vecernji.hr/vijesti/profesionalne-proricateljice-buducnosti-pale-testu-clanak-470557  
• Romania - http://jurnalul.ro/stiri/externe/clarvazatoare-experiment-stiintific-cercetatori-marea-britanie-627563.html 
• Spain - http://www.abc.es/20121031/ciencia/abci-videntes-britanicas-pierden-poderes-201210311818.html 
• i - http://www.independent.co.uk/i/matrix/the-news-matrix-thursday-1-november-2012-8270054.html 
• TNT - http://www.tntmagazine.com/news/weird/psychics-fail-to-prove-clairvoyance-skills-in-scientific-study 
• Der Spiegel - print, pending pictures

Radio
• BBC Asian Network
Blogs reporting Halloween Challenge 2012:
http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews/2012/10/laboratory-test-shows-psychics-arent-psychic-but-heres-how-you-can-pretend-to-be/ 
http://doubtfulnews.com/2012/10/closed-minded-the-non-ability-to-accept-results-psychics-fail-test/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=closed-minded-the-non-ability-to-accept-results-psychics-fail-test 
http://sciblogs.co.nz/infectious-thoughts/2012/11/01/psychics-fail-challenge/  
http://www.gizmodo.co.uk/2012/11/psychics-fail-halloween-mind-reading-challenge-and-blame-lack-of-eye-contact/ 

Interview on This Morning, ITV1, on the Loch Ness Monster, 18/8/12

Interview on This Morning, ITV1, on UFOs, 17/4/12

Interview on This Morning, ITV1, on UFOs, 9/2/12

Interview on This Morning, ITV1, on ghosts, 7/2/12

MyView (on psychics) in The Sun, http://bit.ly/xHlcLp , 7/2/12

4thought.tv, Channel 4, appearance commenting on faithhealing, 24/1/12.

Interview on the Today programme, BBC Radio 4, on end-of-the-world prophecies, 2/1/12.

2011
Interview on Sunday Morning Live, BBC1, on reincarnation, 20 November 2011.

Interview on belief in conspiracy theories, Independent, 12/11/11: http://ind.pn/vhUwmK 

Interview on The One Show, BBC1, on Spiritualism, 31 October 2011.

Interview on The Tony Livesey Show, BBC Radio 5 Live, on ghosts, 31 October 2011.

Interview on BBC Breakfast, BBC1, on lucky charms, 5 October 2011.

Interview on 5 Live Breakfast, BBC Radio 5 Live, on psychics, 21 September 2011.

Interview on Sunday Morning Live, BBC1, on psychics, 24 July 2011.

Interview on Sunday Morning Live, BBC1, on faith healing, 3 July 2011.

“Ghost” investigation on This Morning, ITV1, 27 June 2011.

Interview on This Morning, ITV1, on ghosts, 5 April 2011.

Interview on This Morning, ITV1, on ghosts, 24 March 2011.

Publications

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