Saturday, 2 April 2016

Remembering Parapsychologist Dr Michael Thalbourne

On 4th May 2010 Dr Michael Thalbourne died aged 55 in an Adelaide hospital, Australia from the toxic effects of quetiapine and clonazepam. These medications were prescribed to him for his bipolar disorder which he suffered from for more than 20 years. Despite leaving us so young he made a hugely significant contribution to psychology and parapsychology during his career. In 2011 he was posthumously awarded an Outstanding Contribution Award by The Parapsychological Association.

Over a twenty year career as visiting research fellow at the University of Adelaide he published numerous articles, served as the President of the Australian Institute for Parapsychological Research and launched the Australian Journal of Parapsychology. If that wasn’t enough, along with his colleagues he gave us the concept of Transliminality.

Transliminality refers to the ‘Hypothesised tendency for psychological material to cross (trans) the threshold (limen) into or out of consciousness’ (Thalbourne and Delin, 1994). It is defined as a hypersensitivity to psychological material in the unconscious and external environment (Thalbourne and Maltby, 2008:1618).

It is measured using the Revised Transliminality Scale (Lange et al., 2000) which includes 17 questions on seven psychological constituents: hypeaesthesia (heightened awareness of the senses), hypomanic experience, fantasy-proneness, absorption, positive attitude towards dream interpretation, mystical experience and magical ideation.

Typically, high scorers are interested in their subjective mental experience such as dreams. They also report higher paranormal belief and paranormal experiences (ESP) (Thalbourne and Delin, 1994). There is evidence that the brains of high and low scorers may show differences in temporal lobe lability (Thalbourne, Crawley and Houran (2003); Thalbourne and Maltby (2008). A hyperconnectivity between the temporal lobe and sensory areas of the brain may lead to an oversensitivity to external information and unconscious material coming into awareness. This could then be misinterpreted as paranormal rather than internally generated.

I’ve used the Revised Transliminality Scale in my MSc project and I’m currently writing up that section of my dissertation. This has reminded me what an amazing contribution he made. By continuing the research into transliminality, paranormal belief and other correlates we can all keep his memory alive. 

You can read more about Dr Michael Thalbourne and his work at the links to below: 


Lange, R, Thalbourne, M. A, Houran, J and Storm, L. (2000) ‘The Revised Transliminality Scale: Reliability and Validity Data from a Rasch Top-Down Purification Procedure’. Consciousness and Cognition, 9 (4), pp. 591–617.

Thalbourne, M. A. (1998) ‘Transliminality: further correlates and a short measure.’  Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 92, pp. 402–419.

Thalbourne, M. A., Crawley, S. and Houran, J. (2003) ‘Temporal lobe liability in the highly transliminal mind.’ Personality and Individual Differences, 35, pp. 1965-74. 

Thalbourne, M. A., and Delin, P. S. (1994) ‘A common thread underlying belief in the paranormal, creative personality, mystical experience and psychopathology’ Journal of Parapsychology, 58, pp. 3-38.

Thalbourne M. A. and Maltby, J. (2008). ‘Transliminality, thin boundaries, unusual experiences and temporal lobe liability.’ Personality and Individual Differences, 44 pp. 1617-1623.

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