July 25, 2006
Rex G. Stanford, Ph.D., was a high school student in Texas when
he came to a conclusion that would shape his professional life:
some of the world’s greatest mysteries, however puzzling, can be
understood and explained through the principles of science.
The 1950s were a thrilling time for science-minded teens like
Stanford. Researchers succeeded in generating
electricity through nuclear fission. The U.S. formed the
National Committee for Aeronautics, NASA's precursor. Science
was ascendant, and Stanford devoured books on
While still in high school, Stanford presented papers at
meetings of the Texas Junior Academy of Science. At one meeting, he
heard another student present a paper on research into
"extrasensory perception" (ESP).
The paper sparked Stanford’s interest. “If ESP is real,” he
recalls thinking, “it has interesting implications about the nature
of our world, so scientific study of the claim seems really
Highlights in a Distinguished Career
Today, Professor Stanford, who teaches psychology at St.
John’s University, applies the principles of cognitive psychology
to the scientific study of ESP, one form of what researchers call
psi – currently unexplained interactions with one’s environment.
The scientists who research these events usually are referred to as
“The purpose of science is to solve mysteries, to understand how
to explain a given phenomenon,” says Professor Stanford. “With psi,
there are things people – and possibly some other organisms – seem
able to do that we currently don’t know how to explain. One of them
involves acquiring information in ways that science does not yet
“Parapsychologists assume,” he adds, “that these phenomena can
be investigated scientifically and will ultimately prove to be
The author of more than 100 scholarly publications, Professor
Stanford continues to win international recognition for his work.
This August, at its 49th annual convention in Stockholm, the
Parapsychological Association will install him as president.
Established in 1957, the association has an international
membership of more than 200 scientists and scholars from various
In Portugal this spring, Professor Stanford was an invited
speaker at the 6th Symposium of the Bial Foundation. Founded in
1994 by Bial Laboratories, a leading European pharmaceutical firm,
the foundation supports and showcases international research in
health and medicine.
“Being invited to speak there was definitely a career
highlight,” says Professor Stanford, who teaches undergraduate and
graduate courses in cognitive and social psychology at St. John’s.
“The Bial Foundation’s invitation to eminent brain researchers and
parapsychologists seems to me a tribute to the quality of work that
is done in both fields.”
Making Sense of the Unexplained
Entitled “Making Sense of the ‘Extrasensory’: Modeling
Receptive Psi Using Memory-Related Concepts,” Professor Stanford’s
presentation reflected his long-held conviction that so-called
“paranormal” experiences like ESP are rooted in the natural world.
“I don’t accept the term ‘paranormal,’” he says. “This is because
that term would seem to suggest that the event under discussion is
not part of the natural world.”
Professor Stanford, whose research now combines cognitive,
social and personality psychology, earned his B.A. in psychology at
the University of Texas-Austin, where he was elected to Phi Beta
Kappa, Psi Chi and Phi Eta Sigma. He remained at the university to
earn his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology with a focus on
psycholinguistics. Professor Stanford devoted five years to
research at the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine.
By applying the methods and theories of cognitive psychology,
says Professor Stanford, researchers may well discover that psi is
no more mysterious than other once-unexplained phenomena.