In the 1860s and 1870s, trance mediums were very popular. Spiritualism generally attracted female adherents, many who had strong interests in social justice. Many trance mediums delivered passionate speeches on abolitionism, temperance, and women's suffrage. Scholars have described Leonora Piper as one of the most famous trance mediums in the history of Spiritualism.
Scientists who study anomalistic psychology consider mediumship to be the result of fraud and psychological factors. Research from psychology for over a hundred years suggests that where there is not fraud, mediumship and Spiritualist practices can be explained by hypnotism, magical thinking and suggestion. Trance mediumship, which according to Spiritualists is caused by discarnate spirits speaking through the medium, can be explained by dissociative identity disorder.
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Illusionists, such as Joseph Rinn have staged fake séances in which the sitters have claimed to have observed genuine supernatural phenomena. Albert Moll studied the psychology of séance sitters. According to (Wolffram, 2012) "[Moll] argued that the hypnotic atmosphere of the darkened séance room and the suggestive effect of the experimenters' social and scientific prestige could be used to explain why seemingly rational people vouchsafed occult phenomena." The psychologists Leonard Zusne and Warren Jones in their book Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking (1989) wrote that spirits controls are the "products of the medium's own psychological dynamics."
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In 1966 the son of Bishop Pike committed suicide. After his death, Pike contacted the British medium Ena Twigg for a series of séances and she claimed to have communicated with his son. Although Twigg denied formerly knowing anything about Pike and his son, the magician John Booth discovered that Twigg had already known information about the Pike family before the séances. Twigg had belonged to the same denomination of Bishop Pike, he had preached at a cathedral in Kent and she had known information about him and his deceased son from newspapers.
^ M. Lamar Keene. (1997). The Psychic Mafia. Prometheus Books. p 122. ISBN 978-1-57392-161-9 "A medium still riding high in England is Leslie Flint, famed as an exponent of direct voice. William Rauscher and Allen Spraggett, who attended a sitting Flint held in 1970 in New York, said that it was the most abysmal flop of any seance they had endured. All the spirit voices sounded exactly like the medium and displayed an incredible ignorance of nearly everything pertaining to the sitters. The "mediumship " was second-rate ventriloquism."
In the later half of the 20th century, Western mediumship developed in two different ways. One type involved clairaudience or sensitives who hear spirit, and then relay what they hear to their clients. The other incarnation of non-physical mediumship is a form of channeling in which the channeler goes into a trance, or "leaves their body", allowing a spirit entity to borrow their body, who then speaks through them. When in a trance the medium appears to come under the control of the spirit of a departed soul, sometimes entering into a cataleptic state, although modern channelers may not. Some channelers open the eyes when channeling, and remain able to walk and behave normally. The rhythm and the intonation of the voice may also change completely.
Many 19th century mediums were discovered to be engaged in fraud. While advocates of mediumship claim that their experiences are genuine, the Encyclopædia Britannica article on spiritualism notes in reference to a case in the 19th century that "...one by one, the Spiritualist mediums were discovered to be engaged in fraud, sometimes employing the techniques of stage magicians in their attempts to convince people of their clairvoyant powers." The article also notes that "the exposure of widespread fraud within the spiritualist movement severely damaged its reputation and pushed it to the fringes of society in the United States."