Invited speaker series 2014-15


Autumn term

Date: 7 October 2014
Speaker: Dr Karen Majors
Title: The phenomenon of children’s imaginary companions: An exploration of their characteristics and purposes they serve.


Several studies have shown that contrary to earlier beliefs, it is quite common for children to have imaginary companions. The appearance of the imaginary companions can cause concern to parents and others, who are not sure whether they are a positive feature or a detrimental phenomenon to be discouraged. Whilst the imaginary friends of young children are often known to parents, the imaginary friends of older children, and sometimes adults, are not known to others as their creators anticipate disapproval from others.

This paper reports on research studies I have undertaken with children, parents and adults who recollect childhood imaginary companions. The primary aim of the research has been to explore the characteristics of the imaginary companions and interactions between the child and their imaginary friends in order to shed light on possible purposes they might serve. Data included semi-structured interviews with children, and parent and adult interviews and questionnaires. Children with imaginary friends are not a homogeneous group, and the characteristics of the imaginary friends are also very diverse. Children acknowledged their friends as being imaginary yet they often felt real to the children, some having their own lives, appearing to act independently, and sometimes showing negative characteristics.

Children, parents and adults frequently gave examples of how interactions with imaginary friends were related to events in their daily lives and enabled the child to process and deal with these. Parents and adults saw the main purposes of imaginary companions were to support fantasy play and a companion to play and have fun with. These findings are reviewed in relation to psychological theories of play and imagination. It is argued that the capacity of children to create and sustain interactions with their imaginary friends, which fulfil a range of positive purposes, should be viewed as competence in imagination and creativity.


Karen is a Senior Educational Psychologist for East London Consortium of Educational Psychologists (ELCEP) and also Assistant Programme Director for the Doctorate in Professional Educational, Child and Adolescent Psychology at the Institute of Education (IOE). Her academic and professional interests include children’s friendships, social and emotional development and children’s imaginary friends. Karen completed the Doctorate in Education at the Institute of Education, University of London. The topic of her Doctoral Thesis concerned children’s perceptions of their imaginary friends. She has gone on to carry out research with parents of children with imaginary friends and adults who recollect imaginary friends. Karen has taken opportunities to disseminate research findings on national radio, and national and international conferences.

Date: 14 October 2014
Speaker: Cal Cooper
Title: Ghost therapy


In this talk a variety of exceptional experiences will be explored and their impact on those who encountered them, regardless of the source of the phenomena. For well over 100 years it has been firmly understood that post-death experiences – typically of apparitions – are a common feature of bereavement. Since the 1970s, when related reports entered the British Medical Journal, the research gained respect and understanding amongst the sciences, especially healthcare and bereavement counselling. But what varieties of experiences do people encounter? What is their effect on those who encounter them? All this, and more, shall be discussed.


Callum E. Cooper is a PhD candidate at the University of Northampton within the Centre for the Study of Anomalous Psychological Processes. He also lectures on Parapsychology (third year and Master’s level), Thanatology, and Human Sexual Behaviour. His PhD is investigating post-death experiences during bereavement and the effects they have on percipients, and what cognitive mechanisms are promoted from such experiences to aid recovery. He is the author of Telephone Calls from the Dead, contributor/editor to Conversations with Ghosts (by Dr Alex Tanous), and the co-editor of Paracoustics (with Steve Parsons) – soon to be released. He holds such awards as the Eileen J. Garrett Scholarship (Parapsychology Foundation), the Alex Tanous Scholarship Award (Alex Tanous Foundation for Scientific Research) and the Dr Gertrude Schmeidler Award (Parapsychological Association).

Date: 21 October 2014
Speaker: Professor Karen Douglas
Title: The psychology of belief in conspiracy theories: Correlates, causes and consequences


Was 9/11 an inside job? Is climate change a hoax? Was Princess Diana murdered? Millions of people appear to think so, disbelieving official explanations for significant events in favour of alternative accounts that are often called ‘conspiracy theories’. Little is known about the psychological factors that influence belief in conspiracy theories, and less still is known about their consequences. In this talk, I will outline an ongoing programme of research in which my colleagues and I have attempted to address these gaps in knowledge.


Karen Douglas is a Professor in Social Psychology at the University of Kent. In addition to conducting work on the psychology of conspiracy theories, she is involved in projects examining sexism in language, the influence of sexist ideology on attitudes toward pregnant women, and the psychology of internet behaviour.

Date: 27 October 2014
Speaker: Dr Brooke Magnanti
NB: This talk will be held in the Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre in the Whitehead Building. Also, please note that the date is not our usual Tuesday evening slot!
Title: What will death be like?


What happens to the body after death? How are bodies identified? How much – if any – of what you see in detective dramas is true? Forensic scientist and writer Dr Brooke Magnanti explores the good, the bad, and the patently ridiculous of forensic fiction, and talks about what we do know when it comes to human identification.


Brooke Magnanti, one of Observer’s “Faces of 2009” and Guardian newspaper’s “Best British Weblog 2003,” is a scientist and author. She is writer of the bestselling Belle de Jour series of books, which were adapted into the hit ITV show “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” starring Billie Piper. She is also the writer of The Sex Myth.

Brooke has been featured by more than 100 media outlets including the Sunday Times, Independent, New Scientist, Grazia, The Scotsman, HardTalk, Sky News, This Week and Newsnight. She is a columnist for the Telegraph's Wonder Women, former science editor of Cliterati, and has contributed pieces to the Guardian, Baffler, Big Issue, and Town. Brooke was featured in an episode of Stephen Fry’s Planet Word, was one of the BBC’s inaugural 100 Women, and is a popular public speaker on the themes of biometric and forensic science, sexualisation and culture, and internet anonymity and identity.

Brooke was born in west central Florida in 1975. She received a B.Sc. from Florida State University in 1996, where she studied in the Anthropology and Mathematics departments. She later studied for a master’s in Genetic Epidemiology at the University of Sheffield in England, and earned a Ph.D. in the Forensic Pathology department there. She has worked in forensic science, epidemiology, chemoinformatics and cancer research.

You can find out more about Brooke at the Sexonomics website

Date: 18 November 2014
Speaker: Jamie Bartlett
Title: The Dark Net: what happens under the conditions of anonymity?


Bartlett will talk about his new book, The Dark Net, an exploration of some of the net’s most shocking and unexplored subcultures. This includes the worlds of uncensored drugs markets, internet trolling, neo-Nazis, child pornography, bitcoin and crypto-anarchy. He will examine how people behave under the conditions of real or perceived anonymity online, and what it means for society today.


Jamie Bartlett is the Director of The Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, a collaboration between Demos and the University of Sussex. This work focuses on the ways in which social media and modern communications and technology are changing political and social movements, with a special emphasis on terrorism and radical political movements. Jamie’s recent book The Dark Net about internet subcultures was published in August 2014 by Random House. He is also a writer for the Daily Telegraph on technology.

Date: 25 November 2014
Speaker: Professor Chris Roe
Title: What have we learned from experimental tests of dream ESP?


Approximately two thirds of all reported spontaneous cases of extrasensory perception (ESP) have occurred while the experient was in an altered state of consciousness, particularly while dreaming (Rhine, 1962). Early experimental attempts at the Maimonides sleep laboratory to elicit ESP by monitoring participants and waking them during REM sleep were remarkably successful, with an overall hit rate after 450 trials of 63% (where MCE = 50%), that has odds against chance of 75 million to one (Radin, 1997). Attempts to replicate this promising finding have been limited by the prohibitive costs of maintaining a sleep laboratory and difficulties in recruiting participants for studies that require them to stay overnight. However, some researchers have continued to investigate dream ESP using cheaper and less labour-intensive methods.

In this presentation I will outline some of the methods adopted by teams working post-Maimonides and consider recent reviews of this database (Roe & Sherwood, 2009; Storm, Tressoldi, & Di Risio, 2010) to draw conclusions as to whether an effect has been demonstrated. I will pay particular attention to conceptual and methodological weakness in the approaches taken (cf. Roe, 2009a, 2009b) and make recommendations for future work.


Professor Chris Roe is Professor in psychology and parapsychology at the University of Northampton. He is Research Leader for the Psychology Division and Director of the Centre for the Study of Anomalous Psychological Processes. He is a Treasurer for the British Psychological Society Transpersonal Psychology Section, Board member of the Parapsychological Association, a Council Member of the Society for Psychical Research and the International Affiliate for England of the Parapsychology Foundation. He edits the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. His research interests are around understanding the nature of anomalous experiences and include research on the psychology of paranormal belief and of deception and the phenomenology of paranormal experience as well as experimental approaches to test claims for extrasensory perception and psychokinesis, particularly where they involve psychological factors. Recent research has been concerned with unconscious measures of psi and predicting performance using a composite personality measure called ‘lability’.

Date: 2 December 2014
Speaker: John Sweeney
Title: Brainwashing people is wrong


John Sweeney states the bleeding obvious in a hilarious and thought-provoking talk on the dangers of brainwashing. Totalitarian thought reform works in places like C21st North Korea,

Mao’s China and inside cults because information is restricted. The antidote to that is mockery and tolerance of humour.

NB: No laughing is allowed.


John Sweeney is a journalist and author. He has worked for The Observer newspaper, the BBC’s Newsnight and as an investigative journalist for the BBC’s Panorama series until being made redundant after imitating an exploding tomato with the Church of Scientology. Here’s Sweeney discussing the finer points of Scientology cosmology with a leading Church practitioner: 

Spring term 2015 

Date: 13 January 2015
Speaker: Prof Edzard Ernst
Title: Homeopathy … and the ‘4th Law of Thermodynamics’


There probably is no ‘alternative’ therapy that continuously divides opinion more deeply than homeopathy. Some consumers simply swear by it and interested parties promote it vigorously, while sceptics have always insisted that it is bogus. One side argues ’it works for me’, while the other claims ‘there is not a single positive study’. Unfortunately both are not entirely correct, and divisive polemics seems unhelpful for establishing the truth. My lecture will review the known facts as they pertain to homeopathy’s basic assumptions, its efficacy and its safety. I will also try to explain why homeopathy generates so many evangelic believers and such cynical disbelievers.

And what has that to do with the ‘4th law of thermodynamics’? If you want to learn the answer, you should come to this lecture.


Professor Ernst qualified as a physician in Germany where he also completed his MD and PhD theses. He was Professor in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR) at Hannover Medical School (Germany) and Head of the PMR Department at the University of Vienna (Austria). He came to the University of Exeter in 1993 to establish the first Chair in Complementary Medicine. Since 2012, he is Emeritus Professor.

He is founder/Editor-in-Chief of two medical journals (FACT [‘Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies’] and ‘Perfusion’). His work has been awarded with 14 scientific prizes/awards and two Visiting Professorships. He served on the ‘Medicines Commission’ of the British ‘Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency’ (1994 – 2005) and on the ‘Scientific Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products’ of the ‘Irish Medicines Board’. In

1999 he took British nationality. Publications: >1000 papers in the peer-reviewed literature (H-Index>80) (, 48 books (translated into well over a dozen languages), >100 book-chapters. About 700 invited lectures worldwide. Supervision of ~50 MD or PhD theses. Own blog: Over 9000 followers on Twitter.

Date: 27 January 2015
Speaker: Prof Richard Wiseman
Title: The Golden Age of Paranormal Television


The 80s and 90s saw a surge in paranormal programming, including the likes of Strange But True, Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, and Out of this World. Richard Wiseman acted as consultant and onscreen expert to most of these shows, and will present a behind the scenes look at this unusual genre of programming. Includes the world's worst paranormal television show, psychic testing, ghosts on film, rare archive footage and material that didn't make the final cut.


Richard Wiseman holds Britain’s only Professorship in the Public Understanding of Psychology, at the University of Hertfordshire. His research into a range of topics including luck, the psychology of change, deception and persuasion has been published in the world’s leading academic journals, while his psychology-based YouTube videos have received over 200 million views. He is the author of several books that have been translated into over 30 languages, including The Luck Factor, Quirkology, Rip it Up and the international bestseller 59 Seconds.

Date: 10 February 2015
Speaker: Jonny Scaramanga
Title: “Designed for programming the mind”: Lessons from a method of indoctrination


To non-believers, belief in young-Earth creationism can seem incomprehensible. It is sometimes argued that believers have been indoctrinated or even brainwashed, but these are often labels of last resort rather than terms with explanatory power. What does it mean to say that someone has been indoctrinated, and how is this achieved?

This paper examines the techniques used by Accelerated Christian Education schools, which claim they are “designed for programming the mind”. It is argued that in some cases, indoctrination is achieved through a combination of isolation, misinformation, conditioning, loaded language, and authority and social pressures.


Jonny Scaramanga is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Education. He has written about Accelerated Christian Education for the Guardian, New Statesman, and the Times Education Supplement, and discussed it on Newsnight and the Jeremy Vine Show.  

Date: 24 February 2015
Speaker: Dr Kevin Felstead
Title: Carol Felstead and the creation of a Satanic Myth in the United Kingdom


Hypnotised, sedated and brainwashed, Carol’s childhood memories were eradicated and her mind was reordered through 20 years of protracted psychotherapy. Assigned a new identity, separated from her family, a myth was created around Carol which helped stoke the entire Satanic Abuse panic in the United Kingdom.

Out of the blue, in 2005, Carol phoned her brother and said that she wanted to return home. One week later she died in mysterious circumstances. Her family then embarked on a quest to discover the truth about Carol’s life and death. Caught up in a frightening conspiracy of silence, misinformation and institutional cover ups, they discovered what really happened to her mind, body and soul.

In 2014 Carol’s family were granted permission by the Solicitor General to apply to the High Court to order a new hearing and to quash the findings of the original inquest into her death.


Dr Kevin Felstead completed a doctorate in history at Keele University where he taught undergraduate courses on the history of crime, policing and punishment since 1800.

He later taught American history at Liverpool Hope University College; subsequently Kevin was employed by High Peak Borough Council and from 2003 to 2011 by Manchester City Council working in the field of community safety, neighbourhood crime and justice.

Kevin is the author (with Richard Felstead) of Justice for Carol – The True Story of Carol Felstead.

He is currently employed as Director of Communications for the British False Memory Society.

Date: 10 March 2015
Speaker: Konrad Talmont-Kaminski
Title: Magical thinking and religion


Is there a difference between magic and religion? And what is it that they have in common? Recent work on the cognitive and evolutionary basis of supernatural beliefs and the practices connected to them has led to some potential answers to these questions. It appears likely that all supernatural beliefs and practices can be understood as cognitive by-products. In other words, our brains produce them as something of a coincidental side-effect of doing what it is that our brains were meant to do, rather than that our brains should have been shaped by evolution to invent gods or rituals. However, in the fashion of a tinkerer, evolution often makes use of whatever is lying around and in religious traditions supernatural beliefs and practices appear to have been recruited to motivate people to act in prosocial ways. This helps to explain a lot about the relationship between magic and religion, including the often ambivalent relationship that religions in the modern world have towards the magical elements within them.


Konrad Talmont-Kaminski is a Distinguished Fellow at the Religion, Cognition and Culture Research Unit of Aarhus University, Research Associate of the LEVYNA laboratory at Masaryk University in Brno, the Czech Republic, and a Professor in the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Finance and Management in Warsaw, Poland. While his background is in the philosophy of science, his recent work has focussed upon the cognitive science of religion, a new area of research aimed at understanding the cognitive and cultural mechanisms underlying supernatural beliefs and practices. Some of his work in the area has been published in Religion as Magical Ideology (Durham: Acumen 2013).

Date: 24 March 2015
Speaker: Dr David Luke
Title: Artificial paradises? Anomalistic psychology and the psychedelic experience


The traditional use of psychoactive plants as sacramentals in spiritual and shamanic rituals has continued for thousands of years, apparently, while the use of these substances in the developed world has also grown steadily in the last century as ever more plants are discovered and new synthetic chemicals are created. Since the earliest clinical, anthropological and recreational reports of the use of these powerful psychoactive substances they have been associated with all manner of exceptional and anomalous experiences,

ranging from the mystical to the psychical. With the return to academic research of these substances with humans after a 40-year hiatus the question arises as to whether these transpersonal and ostensibly paranormal experiences are genuine and what can be gained from studying them clinically, psychologically, neuroscientifically, and indeed ontologically.


David Luke completed his PhD on the psychology of luck in 2007, and is now Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Greenwich where he teaches an undergraduate course on the Psychology of Exceptional Human Experience, and is also guest lecturer on the MSc in Transpersonal Psychology and Consciousness Studies at the University of Northampton.

He was President of the Parapsychological Association between 2009 and 2011 and as a researcher he has a special interest in transpersonal experiences, anomalous phenomena and altered states of consciousness, having published 100 academic papers in this area. Dr Luke is co-editor of Talking with the Spirits: Ethnographies from Between the Worlds (Daily Grail, 2014) and Breaking Convention: Essays in Psychedelic Consciousness (Strange Attractor, 2013), editor of Ecopsychology and the Psychedelic Experiences (2013), and is also coauthor, with Professor Chris French, of the undergraduate textbook Anomalistic Psychology (2012, Palgrave Macmillan).