Michael A. Thalbourne; Peter S. Delin

“A Common Thread Underlying Belief in the Paranormal, Creative Personality, Mystical Experience and Psychopathology”

“Transliminality: Its Relation to Dream Life, Religiosity, and Mystical Experience”

Review by Tim Knepper, 2001

Thalbourne, Michael A; Delin, Peter S. “A Common Thread Underlying Belief in the Paranormal, Creative Personality, Mystical Experience and Psychopathology.” Journal of Parapsychology 58 (1994): 3-38.

Thalbourne, Michael A; Delin, Peter S. “Transliminality: Its Relation to Dream Life, Religiosity, and Mystical Experience.” International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 9 (1999): 35-43.

Thalbourne and Delin’s 1994 paper “A Common Thread Underlying Belief in the Paranormal, Creative Personality, Mystical Experience and Psychopathology” describes the results of an investigation of belief in the paranormal that was initially intended to determine which psychological characteristics distinguish those who believe in or claim experience of the paranormal from those that do not (note: paranormal is used here to denote three classes of phenomena: extrasensory perception; psychokinesis; and life after death). Via a lengthy questionnaire, six particular psychological characteristics (belief in or experience of the paranormal; creative personality; mystical experience; magical ideation; hypomania; and manic-depression) were measured in three types of subjects (university students (or normals); manic-depressives; and schizophrenics), the results of which were by and large insignificant (i.e., there was no significant difference between the groups with respect to overall measure of belief in the paranormal). However, within each group, particularly the student group, belief in the paranormal was found to correlate positively to a significant degree with creative personality, mystical experience, and all the psychopathological variables (manic experience, depressive experience, manic-depression, hypomania, full and reduced magical ideation). After subjecting the student data to a principal components analysis, a single factor emerged, a common component of these phenomena. Thalbourne and Delin call that factor “transliminality” – the measure of the extent to which the contents of some preconscious region of the mind are able to cross the threshold into consciousness. They write: “The common thread that appears to unite all the component variables is, we speculate, that they can be thought of as being different situations under which subliminally processed ideation, often with associated positive or negative affect, crosses the threshold from subliminal to supraliminal” (23). Moreover, Thalbourne and Delin also propose that “[a] high degree of transliminality appears to imply a largely involuntary susceptibility to, and awareness of large volumes of inwardly generated psychological phenomena of an ideational and affective kind” (25). Thalbourne and Delin then formulated these findings into three general propositions (attention to inner processes; attribution of meaningfulness to inner processes; and further psychological correlates of transliminality), which they then successfully tested against the data from the original study. Finally, additional correlates of transliminality, such as religious experience, interest in dream interpretation, and proneness to hallucination, are reported.

Thalbourne and Delin’s 1999 “Transliminality: Its Relation to Dream Life, Religiosity, and Mystical Experience” details the results of a follow-up study of transliminality in 116 of the participants from their 1994 study described above (98 of which were students, 16 manic-depressives, and 2 schizophrenics). In particular, Thalbourne and Delin investigated the relationship between transliminality (and one of its constituent variables, paranormal belief) and certain variables relating to dreams, several aspects of religiosity, and three measures of mystical experience. The results of the follow-up study are as follows: highly transliminal subjects tend to have better dream recall, to engage more frequently in dream interpretation, to be more religious, to identify with some religious group, to claim a greater number of vivid religious/spiritual experiences, to read about Eastern religions and theosophy. Transliminality also correlates significantly with several measures of mystical experience. In conclusion, Thalbourne and Delin write: “The results suggest that the Religiosity Sale and the item on frequency of dream interpretation can be included in the set of variables comprising transliminality. This tends to support the view that high scorers on the Religiosity Scale may, in addition to possessing other more neutral characteristics, tend to be less well-adjusted than their nonreligious counterparts. The same can be said for those who report more mystical experience” (60).