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By Robin Strom-Mackey

You’ve heard them described as the “artistic type.” They’re highly creative and have truly unique and unusual ideas. They’re the ones who believe in the possibility of the supernatural, or may report having had a mystical experience of their own. Perhaps they dabble in eastern philosophies, or non-mainstream religions. This is the type of person who would cut off his ear in a fit of depression - Van Gogh. Or perhaps the type of creative genius that would take his own life at the very height of his career -Curt Colbaine. Creative, odd, moody and into all sorts of weird philosophies; these are people who are said to have a transliminal personality.

1994 Study Results

University of Adelaide Parapsychologist Professor, Michael Thalbourne, (with Peter S. Delin) designed a study that would measure personality traits of those who believed in the paranormal. They wanted to know what type of person believed in the possibility of the paranormal, (The researchers defined paranormal to those who believed in ESP, Psycho kinesis, or life after death.) and in particular what set believers apart from non-believers.

What the researchers found startled even them. Their findings indicated that those who believed in the paranormal shared an unequivocal similarity of personality traits. So strong was the similarity that Thalbourne gave the personality type a name, dubbing it transliminality.

Definition of Transliminality

The term transliminality literally means to “go beyond the threshold.” Thalbourne, in an interview with Robyn Williams of ABC Science, defined transliminality as:

“a hyper-sensitivity to psychological material coming from the unconscious and a hyper-sensitivity to stimulation from the external environment. So, consciousness is like the meat in the sandwich; one part of the sandwich being the external environment, the other being what we tend to call the unconscious or subliminal region (Williams, 2007).”

In other words, subjects that scored significantly higher on a transliminal scale were people who appear to be able to tap into their subconscious, subliminal, or “supraliminal” minds. This ability to bring the unconscious to the conscious (meaning awareness) they describe as being able to cross more easily the thresholds between the levels of consciousness.

Thalbourne also suggested that a person with a transliminal personality can also tap into information outside himself/herself, perhaps the collective unconscious, to borrow from Jung. An experiment at Goldsmith College London, found that high transliminals were able to perceive flashed subliminal messages far more frequently, while those who were low on a transliminal scale were completely unaware of them.

High transliminals did not score significantly higher on ESP scores, however, than their low transliminal counterparts.


Thalbourne’s 1994 study, and several subsequent follow-up studies proved that people who scored as high transliminals, or very high transliminals, also shared an interesting number of other traits. Subjects that score high on a transliminal scale were usually extremely creative people. Artist, the researchers suggested, used just the ability to bring forth snatches of the unconscious into the conscious while creating their art.

Thalbourne pointed out that this correlation between creativity and the belief in the paranormal had already been demonstrated in three studies. He cites Moon (1975) who noted that visual arts students showed a significantly higher belief in ESP than did their fellow students in other disciplines. Therefore finding this strong correlation was not surprising.

Belief in the Supernatural/Magical Ideation/Mystical Experiences

What might be more surprising was the direct relationship between those who believed in the supernatural and magical ideation. The authors defined magical ideation as, “the tendency to believe in scientifically unorthodox and often bizarre forms of interaction between thought and the physical world,” a tendency they point out as a possible indicator to the “schizotypal personality (schizophrenia type illusions)“ (Thalbourne & Delin, 1994).”

They also found that these people were often believers in the mystical and reported a higher number of mystical experiences - defined as the feeling of oneness with the universe, “a profound sense of peace and the apparent illumination about the meaning of existence (Thalbourne, 1991)."


People who scored high on the transliminal scale also tended to classify themselves as very religious. Oddly though, highly transliminal subjects did not tend to correspond with traditional orthodox beliefs, but often sought out and identified with other religions, markedly Asian religions and philosophies (Thalbourne & Delin, 1999). Interestingly they also found that atheists scored lowest on a transliminal scale followed by agnostics. Those who were brought up or practiced Christianity constituted the middle ground of the transliminal scale.


Dream Interpretation

Those high on the scale also tended to be more aware of their dreams. It wasn’t determined whether they had a higher degree of dream recall than normal, but they did report they tended to spend more time interpreting their dreams for meaning. Also, those who believed in the paranormal suffered from a higher number of nightmares.

Manic Depression / Schizophrenia

Sadly, it seems highly transliminal people tended to be less well-adjusted than their low transliminal counterparts. Individuals that scored very high on the transliminal scale tend to fall prey to mental disorders far more often than the “hard-headed” low -transliminals. For one thing, researchers found a correlation between depression and transliminal personalities. Even more unsettling was the relation between highly transliminal personalities and the predilection of schizophrenia. The researchers noted that further down the transliminal scale a person tended to rate, the less likely they appeared to fall prey to emotional disorders. Although the “happy transliminal” does exist as well.


In his invterview with

Williams, Thalbourne indicates that while transliminals have the gift of creativity, they carry the burden of a likelihood of depression and mental disorders. Possibly Thalbourne would agree, being a transliminal personality is both a blessing and a curse. Undoubtedly a highly transliminal personality, he apparently suffered from bi-polar disorder (manic depression) as an adult, eventually taking his own life. Dr. Michael Thalbourne passed away May 24, 2010. He was 55 years old.


Thalbourne, M.A., Delin, P.S. A Common Thread Underlying Belief in the Paranormal, Creative Personality, Mystical Experience and Psychopathology. Journal of Parapsychology, Vol. 58, March 1994.

Thaibourne, M.A., Delin, P.S. (1999) Transliminality: Its Relation to Dream Life, Religiosity, and Mystical Experience. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion. 9-1 (pp.45-61)

Thalbourne, M.A. Interview with Robyn Williams.; Radio National. June 4, 2006. Retrieved August 12, 2010.


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