By Mark Leary, Ph.D., Duke University
Since the 1800s, psychologists and scientists have been trying to find evidence of psychic abilities or psi in humans. Many research experiments have been conducted toward achieving this objective. However, the reactions to the results of these studies have been mixed. Read on to know more about this controversial field of study.
Skepticism about the Ganzfeld Procedure
Ganzfeld is a German word that refers to looking at a uniform and featureless image, like sitting in a dark room or looking at a snowy landscape. A participant is cut off from normal sights and sounds to make it easier for ESP to operate. The meta-analyses of the ganzfeld studies show results that are highly statistically significant. However, these results have been severely criticized by scientists who do not believe in psi.
Interestingly, a researcher who believed in psi and a critic who didn’t believe in psi published a joint communiqué in which they said that they agreed that something was going on in the ganzfeld data, something that needed additional attention from researchers. They disagreed about whether the results support the existence of psi, but they couldn’t dismiss the findings themselves. They made several recommendations for how future research using the ganzfeld procedure could be improved.
About this time, parapsychologists started using a slightly different procedure, called the autoganzfeld.
In the autoganzfeld procedure, the entire procedure was administered by computer to eliminate the possibility of sensory leakage and other kinds of experimental contamination. From start to end, computers ran the study with almost no involvement by human researchers.
A new meta-analysis was done after several studies had been conducted using the autoganzfeld procedure. It showed an average hit rate across 11 studies of 34 percent.
While some researchers are convinced that the ganzfeld and autoganzfeld studies confirm the existence of ESP, other researchers still deny it.
This is a transcript from the video series Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Use of Precognition to Prove Psi
Precognition involves awareness of some future event. In one type of precognition study, research participants are shown a set of objects. These objects can be different cards or different colored lights. Research participants are then asked to guess which object will a computer randomly select in the future. Essentially, participants try to guess which object the computer will choose according to a random algorithm later. After a participant guesses, a program on the computer randomly selects one object.
The main question is whether the participants can guess in advance what the computer is going to pick. A meta-analysis of 309 precognition studies, conducted in different ways, were published between 1935 and 1987. The results showed that participants accurately picked the object that would be randomly chosen in the future far above chance levels. The odds against the precognition effects being obtained by chance were 10 million to 1.
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Use of Presentiment to Prove Psi
Presentiment involves feeling something that has not yet happened. The main objective of the presentiment studies is to test whether participants have emotional reactions to stimuli that they haven’t experienced yet.
A research participant is asked to sit in front of a computer screen with equipment attached to his or her skin to measure emotional arousal. While the participant sits, a picture appears on the screen for 3 seconds and then disappears. After several seconds, another picture appears and goes away. This process continues. Sometimes, the participant is shown nature scenes and landscape to calm him or her down. At other times, the pictures are emotionally arousing, such as pictures of violent scenes, horrible accidents, or erotica to increase the emotional arousal of the participant.
A strange thing that is seen in this study is that people who are going to see an emotional picture begin to show an increase in physiological arousal a few seconds before the picture appears. It’s as if their minds are seeing the future. Effects have been obtained not only with skin conductance but also while measuring people’s brain waves or scanning their brains in an FMRI scanner.
Daryl Bem’s Study to Determine ESP
In 2011, Daryl Bem, a well-known and highly respected researcher at Cornell University, published an article that created quite a stir, including coverage in the New York Times.
This particular scientific article, which was published in one of the most respected journals in behavioral science, reported 9 experiments, 8 of which obtained strong evidence suggesting that research participants were psychologically affected by things that would happen in the future.
In one of the studies, the participants were shown a list of 48 common words, one at a time, on a computer screen. They were then given a surprise memory test and asked to write down as many words as they could remember. After the participants remembered as many words as they could, the computer randomly selected 24 of the original words and led them through a process in which they studied them more carefully.
The interesting thing was that if the participant went back and looked at the words that he or she had written down earlier, while taking the surprise memory test, they found that they were more likely to have remembered words that they would study more carefully later, that is, words that they studied after they took the test. It was like studying backwards in time.
This set of studies was published in one of the leading scientific journals in psychology, a journal with high standards and high rejection rates. Furthermore, the paper underwent the normal process of peer-review by experts.
Yet, there was an outcry from many scientists that the article should not have been published. Despite the outcry, many scientists defended publishing these controversial results because the research was so well-conducted.
This proves that more research needs to be done on these topics with studies that are well-designed and appropriately analyzed. The existence of psi is a mystery of human behavior that cannot be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction at this time.
Learn more about the field of parapsychology.
Common Questions about Precognitive and Presentiment Studies
In the autoganzfeld procedure, the entire procedure was administered by computer to eliminate the possibility of sensory leakage and other kinds of experimental contamination.
The main objective of the presentiment studies is to test whether participants have emotional reactions to stimuli that they haven’t experienced yet.
Daryl Bem’s study reported 9 experiments, 8 of which obtained strong evidence suggesting that research participants were psychologically affected by things that would happen in the future.