Christopher Charles French
6 April 1956
|Education||B.A., PhD, CPsychol, FBPsS, FRSA|
|Organization||Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit|
|Known for||The Skeptic (UK) magazine|
|Awards||Distinguished Supporter of Humanists UK|
Christopher Charles French (born 1956) is a British psychologist specialising in the psychology of paranormal beliefs and experiences, cognition and emotion. He is the head of the University of London's anomalistic Psychology Research Unit and appears regularly in the media as an expert on testing paranormal claims.
Opinion poll after opinion poll tell us that the majority of population, in one way or another, do express belief in the paranormal. Most people, in any survey, will endorse at least one paranormal claim. Now, either that means that paranormal forces really do exist, or it's telling us something really interesting about human psychology. So, either way, we should definitely take these types of claims seriously and try to understand what is going on.
The focus of his current research is the psychology of paranormal beliefs and anomalous experiences. In addition to academic activities, such as conference presentations and invited talks in other departments, he frequently appears on radio and television presenting a sceptical view of paranormal claims. He has been consulted as an expert on a wide range of such claims including psychic abilities, recovered memory, telepathy, faith healing, past life regression, ghosts, UFO abductions, out-of-body experiences, astrology and so on.
French teaches a course entitled Psychology, Parapsychology and Pseudoscience as part of the BSc (Hons) Psychology programmes at both Goldsmiths College and Birkbeck College. He is a Chartered Psychologist and a Fellow of the British Psychological Society.
During his 2014 interview for the Skeptic Zone Podcast, Chris acknowledged that, as a sceptic, he believed in paranormal activities until he became more aware of the psychology behind why people believe, a point made clear to him through a book written by Professor of Psychology James Alcock:
I kind of fell into this trap myself...I used to be a believer, a true believer until quite well into my adulthood. And it was reading one particular book by James Alcock, called 'Parapsychology: Science or Magic,' that made me realize there was another way of explaining all these unusual experiences, and one that actually made a lot of sense to me!
He has authored or co-authored over 80 articles and chapters dealing with a wide variety of subjects in psychology, his work has been published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, the British Journal of Psychology and the British Journal of Clinical Psychology.
In August 1996, he organised and chaired an integrated paper session on the topic of The Psychology of Paranormal and Pseudoscientific Beliefs at the XXVI International Congress of Psychology in Montreal.
In July 1997, he chaired a symposium on The Psychology of Paranormal Belief at the Fifth European Congress of Psychology in Dublin. He presented a paper at a conference on Paranormal and Superstitious Beliefs: A Skeptical Examination at Manchester Metropolitan University on Friday 13, November, 1998.
In February 1999, he contributed to a symposium of the Royal Statistical Society (which he co-organised). In July 1999, he co-organised and presented a paper at a half-day conference on Parapsychology: Current Status and Future Prospects at Goldsmiths College and gave a paper at the Sixth European Congress of Psychology in Rome. In February 2001, he gave an invited presentation to the Institute for Cultural Research at the Royal Society of Medicine and he has organised two symposia at major conferences (Glasgow, March 2001; London, July 2001).
In 2001, French tested the effects of crystal healing with the results suggesting that they are largely placebo effects. 80 volunteers were given a questionnaire to gauge their level of belief about paranormal phenomena. Later they were given what they were told was a genuine crystal, and asked to meditate for 10 minutes and then report the sensations they experienced. Half of the subjects had actually been given fake plastic crystals instead. French found no difference between the feelings reported between the two groups.
In 2004, French and colleagues conducted an experiment involving electromagnetic fields (EMF) and extremely low frequency sound waves (infrasound) phenomena that have been associated with allegedly haunted locations, the experiment did not establish a causal relationship between these phenomena and experiences of the subjects.
A study, led by French and published in 2008, explored the psychology of people who believed they had been abducted by aliens.
French, Richard Wiseman and Stuart Ritchie each tried to replicate Daryl Bem's claim about psychic powers independently and failed at publishing their findings in high-profile journals. This is a common problem with publishing negative results, as novel research is more sought-after. They subsequently submitted their paper to PLOS One, an open access journal, of which's concept French became a supporter.
French is a former Editor-in-Chief of The Skeptic (UK) magazine. He presided over a relaunch, in 2009, in which the magazine expanded to 40 pages and assembled an editorial advisory board, including many big names (e.g. Tim Minchin, Stephen Fry, Richard Wiseman, Simon Singh). From 2009 to 2016, French has been a columnist for The Guardian newspaper exploring scepticism and anomalistic psychology.
He has appeared on various science programmes (e.g. Equinox, ScienceNow, All in the Mind) and documentaries (e.g. Heart of the Matter, Everyman) as well as numerous discussion programmes (e.g. Esther; The Time, The Place; Kilroy; This Morning).
In 1998, he took part in an investigation of reincarnation claims amongst the Druze people of Lebanon, broadcast as part of the To the Ends of the Earth series. This involved spending around three weeks in Lebanon with a film crew.
In November 2013, French was featured as the keynote speaker for the 2013 Australian Skeptics National Convention in Canberra.
In 2017, French attended the 17th European Skeptics Congress (ESC) in Old Town Wrocław, Poland. This was organised by the Klub Sceptyków Polskich (Polish Skeptics Club) and Český klub skeptiků Sisyfos (Czech Skeptic's Club). Here he appeared on a panel to discuss exorcisms. The panel was chaired by Amardeo Sarma and included Mariusz Błochowiak, Konrad Szołajski and Jakub Kroulík.
Selected book sections
—; Santomauro, J. (2007). "Something Wicked This Way Comes. Causes and Interpretations of Sleep Paralysis". In Sala, Sergio Della (ed.). Tall Tales About the Mind and Brain. Separating Fact from Fiction. Oxford University Press. pp. 380–398. ISBN 9780198568773.
—; Wilson, Krissy (2007). "Cognitive Factors Underlying Paranormal Beliefs and Experiences". In Sala, Sergio Della (ed.). Tall Tales About the Mind and Brain. Separating Fact from Fiction. Oxford University Press. pp. 3–22. ISBN 9780198568773.
— (2009). "Anomalistic Psychology". In Cardwell, Mike; Clark, Liz; Meldrum, Claire; Wadeley, Alison (eds.). Psychology for A2 Level for AQA (A) (4th ed.). New York: HarperCollins. pp. 472–505. ISBN 9780007255030.
— (2010). "Reflections of a (Relatively) Moderate Skeptic". In Krippner, Stanley; Friedman, Harris L. (eds.). Debating Psychic Experience: Human Potential Or Human Illusion?. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. pp. 53–64. ISBN 9780313392610.
— (2010). "Missing the point?". In Krippner, Stanley; Friedman, Harris L. (eds.). Debating Psychic Experience: Human Potential Or Human Illusion?. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. pp. 149–152. ISBN 9780313392610.
—; Beaumont, J. Graham (March 1984). "A critical review of EEG coherence studies of hemisphere function". International Journal of Psychophysiology. 1 (3): 241–54. doi:10.1016/0167-8760(84)90044-8. PMID 6394561.
—; Beaumont, J. Graham (November 1987). "The reaction of psychiatric patients to computerized assessment". British Journal of Clinical Psychology. 26 (4): 267–78. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8260.1987.tb01360.x. PMID 3427249.
Richards, Anne; — (1992). "An anxiety-related bias in semantic activation when processing threat/neutral homographs". Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, Section A. 45 (3): 503–25. doi:10.1080/02724989208250625. PMID 1308736. S2CID 42520099.
Richards, Anne; —; Johnson, Wendy; Naparstek, Jennifer; Williams, Jane (November 1992). "Effects of mood manipulation and anxiety on performance of an emotional Stroop task". British Journal of Psychology. 83 (4): 479–91. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1992.tb02454.x. PMID 1486362.
French, Christopher C.; Richards, Anne; Scholfield, Emma J. C. (November 1996). "Hypomania, anxiety and the emotional Stroop". British Journal of Clinical Psychology. 35 (4): 617–26. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8260.1996.tb01217.x. PMID 8955547.
Hadwin, Julie; Frost, Susie; —; Richards, Anne (August 1997). "Cognitive processing and trait anxiety in typically developing children: Evidence for an interpretation bias". Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 106 (3): 486–90. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.106.3.486. PMID 9241952.
Keogh, Edmund; — (March–April 2001). "Test anxiety, evaluative stress, and susceptibility to distraction from threat". European Journal of Personality. 15 (2): 123–41. doi:10.1002/per.400. S2CID 144497181.
Richards, Anne; —; Calder, Andrew J.; Webb, Ben; et al. (September 2002). "Anxiety-related bias in the classification of emotionally ambiguous facial expressions". Emotion. 2 (3): 273–87. doi:10.1037/1528-35184.108.40.2063. PMID 12899360.
Keogh, Edmund; Bond, Frank W.; —; Richards, Anne; et al. (2004). "Test anxiety, susceptibility to distraction and examination performance". Anxiety, Stress, & Coping. 17 (3): 241–52. doi:10.1080/10615300410001703472. S2CID 144089694.
- Wignall, Alice (18 January 2005). "What it's like to work at... ...Goldsmiths College, University of London". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- Grossman, Wendy (20 December 2019). "An Improper Researcher". Skeptical Inquirer. CSICOP. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
- "Professor Chris French". Goldsmiths College, University of London website. Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths College, University of London. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- Kylie Sturgess (5 February 2010). "The Skeptic Zone #68" (Podcast). Retrieved 27 December 2014.
- "Sixteen notable figures in science and skepticism elected CSI Fellows". Skeptical Inquirer. 12 January 2010. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- Matthews, Robert (8 March 2001). "Spiritualists' powers turn scientists into believers". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 3 October 2013. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
Sample, Ian (31 October 2011). "Sally Morgan rejects Halloween challenge to prove her psychic powers". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- Storr, Will (10 December 2011). "The mystery of Carol Myers". The Observer. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- "Chris French". 4thought.tv. Episode 184 series 2. Channel Four Television Corporation. 24 January 2012. Channel 4. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- Sample, Ian (13 January 2005). "Do the dead contact us through tape recorders?". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
"Ghosts in the machine". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. 4 January 2005. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
- "Alien abduction is all in the mind says expert". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. 26 October 2005. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
- Rowlands, Barbara (17 November 2001). "In the dead of the night". The Observer. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- Stewart, Joseph V. (1996). Astrology: What's Really in the Stars. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. p. 129. ISBN 9781573920773.
- Jha, Alok (16 August 2009). "What would an alien look like?". The Guardian. Science Weekly. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- French, Chris (21 April 2011). "Haunted houses, telepathy and UFOs: Investigating the extraordinary". Liverpool Skeptics in the Pub. Merseyside Skeptics Society. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
- Saunders, Richard. "The Skeptic Zone episode #292 25.May.2014". The Skeptic Zone. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
- French, Christopher C. (2011), Paranormal Perception: A Critical Evaluation (PDF), vol. Monograph 42, London: Institute for Cultural Research, ISBN 9780904674347
- French, C.C. (convenor) (1996). "Psychology of paranormal and pseudoscientific beliefs". International Journal of Psychology. 31 (3–4): 219–322. doi:10.1080/00207594.1996.19960819.
- French, Christopher C. (10 September 1996). "Parapsychology and the paranormal". Atheism Central for Secondary Schools. Alan Urdaibay. Archived from the original (Paper presented at the British Association Annual Festival of Science) on 1 February 2013. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- "Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit: Conferences and other Presentations". Goldsmiths College, University of London website. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- Heid, Markham. "You Asked: Do Healing Crystals Actually Work?". time.com. Time USA, LLC. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
- Derbyshire, David; Hall, Celia. "New Age crystal power is all in the mind". telegraph.co.uk. Telegraph Media Group Limited. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
- Marcus, Adam (27 October 2008). "Ghost lusters: If you want to see a specter badly enough, will you?". Scientific American. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- Waterhouse, Rosie (13 October 2008). "Weird ... or what?". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- "Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit". Goldsmiths College, University of London website. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- Jha, Alok (29 March 2009). "Sceptical thinking makes a comeback". The Guardian. Science Weekly. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- "Profile: Chris French". The Guardian. 6 March 2009. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- "Strange But True – Season 3, Episode 11: Strange But True? Live". TV.com. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- Chris French at IMDb
- "Australian Skeptics National Convention 2013 Speakers". Archived from the original on 1 February 2014. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
- Gerbic, Susan (9 February 2018). "Skeptical Adventures in Europe, Part2". www.csicop.org. Committee for skeptical inquiry. Retrieved 29 April 2018.