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Research in Parapsychology - 1976


AN INQUIRY INTO THE REACTION OF THE PUBLIC TO THE "GELLER EFFECT": A QUESTIONNAIRE INVESTIGATION

Susanne Gruber-Wendlandt - Institut fur Grenzgebiete der Psychologie


In January 1974 Uri Geller demonstrated his phenom­ena on German television. He also did an experiment with the readers of a boulevard paper, Bild. In addition to thousands of phone calls, the editors of the paper received 1450 letters with reports of bent and broken cutlery and started watches. The television station also received thousands of phone calls and made note of 800 addresses of callers. I first performed 80 personal interviews with a casual sample of Bild readers and television viewers to assess the spec­ trum of reported phenomena, and then constructed a question­naire based on my findings. Part A dealt with details of watch phenomena. Part B contained corresponding questions about cutlery. Part C consisted of questions about attitudes towards Uri Geller, the respondents' interpretation of the claimed phenomena, and their degree of familiarity with the paranormal and the occult, and their opinion on future eco­nomic and political development. Part D was a standard­ized personality questionnaire called FPIK. All the items on the questionnaire were either multiple choice questions or choosing between alternatives. After a preliminary test of 150 persons, the questionnaire was sent to a random sam­ ple of 850 out of a base of about 2500 people for whom I had addresses. Return rates were 69 percent and 72 percent, which indicates a strong motivation in the questioned sample.
 The evaluation of the results was carried out in collaboration with Dr. Rainer Hampel and Dr. Helmut Kury, both psychologists and statisticians. It included the follow­ ing steps: counting absolute and percentile frequencies of all single items; comparison of the findings with those of a matched control group; evaluation of the personality question­ naire; and factor analysis of 103 items of Part C of the questionnaire.
 On the item analysis, 402 out of 612 persons reported 559 influenced watches or clocks, and 151 out of 612 reported 243 cutlery deformations. One-quarter of those reporting on watches claimed spontaneous starting; 17 percent of cutlery reporters described spontaneous deformation. Some people continued with the experiments. Of those who later tried to start a watch, more than three-quarters claimed success. More than half of those who tried to bend metal reported deformation. A quarter of the metal benders claimed that at least one piece of cutlery had bent without having been touched. A fifth reported broken metal objects. Slightly more than two- thirds of the watch and cutlery phenomena were actually wit­ nessed by at least one person. Half the sample thought that Uri Geller caused the phenomena directly, a fifth considered themselves the cause of the phenomena but felt that they were triggered by Geller, and a third had no explanation. Of those who believed in Uri Geller as the cause of the phenomena, 47 percent thought that he might have done it with the help of "unknown forces"; 22 percent thought of "supernatural pow­ ers"; 52 percent regarded him as a medium with extraordinary abilities. Only 12 persons took Geller for a cheater. A representative sample of the population was chosen to serve as a control group and was questioned. The persons in this sam­ple had not participated in any watch or bending experiment. Parallel groups were formed by age, sex, and education to the Geller sample; each resulting sample comprised 191 persons. Not surprisingly, the Geller sample reported a closer connection to an occult attitude towards life than the controls at a proportion of 50 to 30. Though none of the control group persons had observed any Geller phenomena, 95 percent had heard of him. This meant that Geller was better-known than the German chancellor! Half the control persons believed that the "Geller effect" was a "good trick," whereas only 2 percent of the Geller sample regarded Geller as a cheater.
 The evaluation of the personality questionnaire for the Geller sample showed no significant deviations from the norm. Three possible alternative explanations may be given for this result: the Geller sample was indeed not different from the general population; the questionnaire was not answered honest­ly, which was highly improbable because the deception scale value was not significant; or the personality questionnaire did not measure traits that were characteristic of the Geller sam­ ple. A factor analysis was carried out on 103 items of Part C of the questionnaire. Eight factors emerged, of which the three most important were called "belief in destiny," "Geller and miracle fascination," and "intellectual interest in the occult. " The last step of the evaluation was a correlation among the factors; all factors showed significant inter correla­ tions with the remarkable exception of the factor "Geller and miracle fascination. " This factor showed no correlation with any other factor. It seemed to be a phenomenon sui generis; a person can be a "Geller fan" without having anything to do with the occult.
 In conclusion, our inquiry made it possible to describe the social-psychological aspect of the "Geller effect. " It still remains unexplained why Uri Geller at this particular time could cause a public reaction unique in the history of both social psychology and parapsychology.


©Journal of Parapsychology


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