Carington born in London was educated at the University of Cambridge where he studied science. He joined the Royal Flying Corps during World War I and became an experienced pilot, but was badly injured after a forced landing. On behalf of the Air Ministry and War Office he returned to Cambridge to undertake research into acoustics, with special reference to psychological problems. At this time he devised some innovative methods for the mathematical assessment of feelings, which proved useful in his later work.
He investigated the mediums Kathleen Goligher and Gladys Osborne Leonard and he set about studying psychical research in more detail. Between 1934 and 1936 Carington tested the trance mediumship of Eileen Garrett, Gladys Osborne Leonard and Rudi Schneider with psychogalvanic reflex and word association tests. Carington concluded from the results their trance controls were secondary personalities, not spirits.
Criticism of Carington's tests on mediums came from C. D. Broad and R. H. Thouless who wrote he had made statistical errors and misinterpreted numerical data. The psychologist Donald West had praised the tests that Carington performed with Leonard.
Carington gave up all other work for his interest in psychical research. He lived on a small private income for a time in a remote village in the Netherlands. In 1938 he travelled to Germany, to rescue a woman from harassment by the Gestapo. They later married and set up home in Cornwall, where his wife collaborated in his experiments and nursed him as his health gradually failed. His early death at the age of fifty-four was due in part to his injury during World War I, and to overwork.
Carington theorised that individual minds are less isolated from one another than is assumed. Carington's hypothesis of telepathy was to draw upon the association of ideas: in a mind, one idea yields to another through associative links. Carington hypothesized that telepathy depends upon an analogous type of linkage at a subconscious level. He suggested that such links could perhaps be reinforced by what he called 'K’ ideas or objects. Carington speculated on the concept of a "group mind" and "psychons". He believed that minds which hold a great deal of their images in common may be favourable for telepathic communication.
Carington wrote about his hypothesis in his book Telepathy (1945). The book received a positive review in the British Medical Journal which described it as an "extremely interesting and, though often highly speculative, a thought-provoking book." However Frank Finger gave the book a negative review in The Quarterly Review of Biology claiming Carington failed to present any scientific data that could be intelligently evaluated and concluded "it seems doubtful that this book will alter the scientific status of telepathic communication appreciably, and certainly it will cause no great upheaval in the field of biological science."
The philosopher Antony Flew wrote the verdict seemed to go against Carington's hypothesis because it "commits him to saying that the various sub-laws of association (those of Recency, Repetition, etc.) will apply to telepathic association also."
Carington in his book Matter, Mind, and Meaning (1949) advocated a form of neutral monism. He held that mind and matter both consist of the same kind of components known as "cognita" or sense data.
- The Foundations of Spiritualism (1920)
- A Theory of the Mechanism of Survival (1920)
- The Measurement of Emotion (1922)
- The Death of Materialism (1932)
- Three Essays on Consciousness (1934)
- Telepathy: An Outline of its Fact, Theory and Implications (1945)
- Matter, Mind and Meaning (1949). Completed by H. H. Price.
- – (1934). The Quantitative Study of Trance Personalities. Part 1. Preliminary Studies. Mrs. Garrett, Rudi Schneider, Mrs. Leonard. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 42: 173–240.
- – (1935). The Quantitative Study of Trance Personalities. Part 2. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 43: 319–361.
- – (1936). The Quantitative Study of Trance Personalities. Part 3. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 44: 189–222.
- "Walter Whately Carington". Gale Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology.
- Mauskopf, Seymour; McVaugh, Michael. (1980). The Elusive Science: Origins of experimental Psychical Research. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 222. ISBN 978-0801823312 "Between 1934 and 1936 he published three papers on "The Quantitative Study of Trance Personalities" — studying Mrs. Garrett (and "Uvani"); Rudi Schneider (and his control, "Olga"); and Mrs. Osborne Leonard (together with her control, "Feda," and two other communicators purporting to be the late Reverend John Wesley Thomas and his daughter Etta). As Hereward Carrington had done, he used reaction times and variations in the psychogalvanic reflex during word-association tests."
- Spiritist Mediums May Be Split Personalities. (1935). The Science News-Letter. Vol. 28, No. 753. pp. 165–166. "Mr. Carington subjected a considerable number of mediums, both in their normal condition and in the trance state, to what psychologists call the word-association test. This consists in the examiner saying one word, and the subject answering with the first word that comes into his mind. The answer gives a picture of the mental state of the subject... In their normal state, they gave one set of reactions to test words. In their trance, their "controls" gave the opposite set of reactions. This led Mr. Carington to suspect that a medium's "control" is no messenger from the spirit world, but simply an ordinarily suppressed "other self" who gets leave to speak up during the trance condition."
- Edmunds, Simeon. (1965) Miracles of the Mind: An Introduction to Parapsychology. Thomas. p. 77. ISBN 978-0020527541 "Drayton Thomas made the notes of his sittings with Mrs. Leonard available to W. Whately Carington when the latter carried out his noted quantitative study of mediumship, and collaborated closely with him in this work, although he disagreed strongly with Carington's conclusion that "Feda" was not a spirit entity, but merely a secondary personality of the medium. Carington's view, however, received formidable support from the results of his application of the psychological technique known as the word association test, which he made on Mrs. Leonard and a number of other trance mediums."
- Douglas, Alfred. (1982). Extra-Sensory Powers: A Century of Psychical Research. Overlook Press. p. 159. ISBN 978-0879511609 "Carington was interested in the psychology of the trance state, and to investigate this further applied Word Association Tests to various mediums, including Mrs Leonard. The results were not conclusive, but in the case of Mrs Leonard Carington believed that they demonstrated a "counter-similarity" between the personalities of Mrs Leonard and Feda; an inverse relationship that tended to confirm Lady Troubridge's studies. Carington concluded that in his view Feda was a secondary personality of Mrs Leonard, probably formed round a nucleus of repressed material."
- Franklyn, Julian. (2003). Dictionary of the Occult. Kessinger Reprint Edition. p. 230. ISBN 978-1162578330 "It was further shown by Mr. Whately Carington, using the psycho-galvanic-reflex, that the medium's spirit control "Olga", who claims to be the ghost of a Spanish dancing-girl, Lola Montez, is in reality indistinguishable in psychological make-up from Rudi himself."
- Broad, C. D. (2011). Lectures on Psychical Research. Routledge Reprint Edition. p. 200. ISBN 978-0415610728
- West, Donald. (1954). Psychical Research Today. Duckworth. p. 60. "Carington discovered that the results given by Feda and Mrs Leonard were neither what one would expect from testing two different persons nor what one would normally get from testing the same person twice. Superficially their patterns were grossly dissimilar, but they were related to each other – that is, negatively correlated. Where the normal Mrs Leonard tended to give a long reaction time, the entranced Mrs Leonard gave a short one, and vice versa. In other words Feda and Mrs Leonard were not independent individuals; they were complementary characters. The result is in keeping with the theory that Feda is a dramatization of the medium's own subconscious trends. It is very difficult to reconcile these findings with a Spiritualistic interpretation."
- Haynes, Renée. (1982). The Society for Psychical Research, 1882–1982: A History. Macdonald. p. 92. ISBN 978-0356078755
- Telepathy and the Group Mind. (1945). The British Medical Journal. Vol. 2, No. 4433. p. 886
- Samuel, Lawrence. (2011). Supernatural America: A Cultural History: A Cultural History. Praeger. p. 61. ISBN 978-0313398995 "British author Whately Carington (no relation to the American writer Hereward Carrington) posited that “mind-stuff” (composed of “psychons,” or ideas) was analogous to but completely distinct from matter in the physical world. Although their cognitive equivalent had yet to be discovered, dimensions of the physical world—time and space—did not apply to the mind, Carington argued, meaning people's mental processes could overlap. While our conscious minds were isolated units, our subconscious minds were not, he theorized, making an "association of ideas" possible between people who were acquainted with each other and, better yet, had common interests."
- "Walter Whately Carington". Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology. "Carington's best known and most controversial contribution to parapsychology is his "association theory" of telepathy, the basis of which is the concept that minds are systems of ideas and sensa (termed "psychons" by Carington). Such "psychon systems," he held, are not wholly insulated from one another, and in telepathy interaction between psychons in different minds takes place according to the same laws of association as govern the interaction of psychons in a single mind."
- Finger, Frank. (1947). Thought Transference: An Outline of Facts, Theory and Implications of Telepathy by Whately Carington. The Quarterly Review of Biology. Vol. 22, No. 1. pp. 97–98.
- "Iris Murdoch's early works and her struggle to 'write something good' revealed". The Telegraph.
- Flew, Antony. (1953). A New Approach To Psychical Research. Watts & Co. p. 132
- Broad, C. D. (1950). Matter, Mind, and Meaning by W. Whately Carington. Philosophy. Vol. 25, No. 94. pp. 275–277.
- Grenell, R. G. (1953). Matter, Mind and Meaning by Whately Carington. The Quarterly Review of Biology. Vol. 28, No. 4. pp. 404–405.
- Oakeshott, Michael; O'Sullivan, Luke. (2007). The Concept of a Philosophical Jurisprudence: Essays and Reviews 1926–51. Imprint Academic. p. 286. ISBN 978-1845401801 "The doctrine that Mr Carington comes to favour is a form of Neutral Monism: the common constituents of mind and matter are sense-data or cognita. In themselves these cognita are neither mental nor material."
- Heywood, Rosalind. (1978). The Sixth Sense: An Inquiry Into Extra-Sensory Perception. Penguin Books.
- Thouless, R, H. (1937). Review of Mr. Whately Carington's Work on Trance Personalities. Proceedings of the Society for psychical Research 44: 223–275.
- Thouless, R, H. (1963). Experimental Psychical Research. Penguin Books.
- Smith, Susy. (1964). The Mediumship of Mrs. Leonard. New Hyde Park NY: University Books. See Chapter 8 for Carington's word association experiments with Mrs. Leonard.