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Understanding the unknown: A thematic analysis of subjective paranormal experiences

Drinkwater, K and Dagnall, N and Grogan, S and Riley, V (2017) Understanding the unknown: A thematic analysis of subjective paranormal experiences. Australian Journal of Parapsychology, 17 (1). pp. 23-46. ISSN 1445-2308


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This study investigated personal accounts of subjective paranormal experiences (SPEs). Ten UK-based participants took part in semi-structured interviews, where they discussed how alleged paranormal experiences made them feel, whether the narrated event(s) was unusual/strange, and what they believed caused the occurrence(s). Interview transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis; a qualitative method that identifies patterns within data. Five central themes emerged (sensory experiences, you are not alone, distortion of reality, personal growth, and socio-cultural factors). Consideration of themes revealed an intricate, inextricable link between perception, interpretation and belief. Generally, SPEs were associated with the desire to comprehend the unknown and a reluctance to accept the uncertain. Findings provided important insights into the phenomenology of paranormal experience, suggested avenues for future research and were consistent with previous findings.

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