Coover, John Edgar (1872–1938)
Psychologist and director of the Psychical Research Laboratory
at Stanford University whose brief flirtation with psychical
research had a significant negative effect upon the whole field.
Cooper was born March 16, 1872, at Remington, Indiana, and
was educated at Stanford University (A.B., A.M., Ph.D.).
Shortly after Harvard University received a large grant to
carry out psychical research in 1912, Thomas W. Stanford gave
a significant endowment for the same purpose to the university
his brother had founded. Coover had just assumed a position
at Stanford and was the first to receive funding from the grant,
making him the first faculty member of a large American university
to conduct parapsychological experiments.
He conducted a set of methodologically sound experiments
in telepathy and clairvoyance with one person ‘‘sending’’ from
a deck of playing cards to a second person in another room.
Over a five-year period he carried out 10,000 trials and in 1917
presented an impressive 600 page report, Experiments in Psychical
Research at Stanford University. The detailed report, filled
with an impressive set of statistics, claimed the attention of
American scientists. Its skeptical conclusions resulted in negative
reactions to further efforts to develop university-based psychical
After these experiments, Coover had little to do with parapsychology.
He wrote an occasional article for the periodicals
of the Society for Psychical Research and the American Society
for Psychical Research and contributed a chapter in a book edited
by Carl A. Murchison, The Case for and Against Psychical Belief
(1927). Coover reached a somewhat agnostic position on the
question, an attitude not conducive to pursuing research in a
highly controversial field. He died February 19, 1938, at Palo
Alto, California.
Toward the end of Coover’s life a mild controversy emerged
concerning his 1917 report. In 1935 Robert Thouless carried
out a new examination of Coover’s data and suggested that it
contained statistically significant results. J. B. Rhine later suggested
that because of the stress Thouless felt from his colEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Coover, John Edgar
leagues, he refused to report his favorable evidence. This conclusion
is bolstered by a letter Thouless wrote to the president
of the university, saying his research was ‘‘offensive in the nostrils
of’’ his fellow psychologists.
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Coover, J. E. Experiments in Psychical Research at Stanford University.
Palo Alto, CA Stanford University Press, 1917.
Rhine, J. B. ‘‘History of Experimental Studies.’’ In Handbook
of Parapsychology, edited by B. Wolman. New York Van Nostrand
Rhinhold, 1977.
Thouless, Robert H. ‘‘Dr. Rhine’s Recent Experiments in
Telepathy and Clairvoyance and a Reconsideration of J. E.
Coover’s Conclusions on Telepathy.’’ Proceedings of the Society
for Psychical Research 43 (1935) 24.

Previous articleControl
Next articleCoates, James (ca. 1927)