No, You Don't Have ESP: Or A Sixth Sense Either
    By News Staff | January 14th 2014 10:26 AM | 4 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    A paper has determined that while people can reliably become aware of changes - visual awareness can extend beyond objects we focus on - that doesn't mean we can identify what has changed.  Their example is that a person might notice a general change in someone's appearance but not be able to identify that the person had had a haircut.  

    Lead author Dr. Piers Howe from the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences said the research is the first to show in a scientific study that people can reliably sense changes that they cannot visually identify. 

    "There is a common belief that observers can experience changes directly with their mind, without needing to rely on the traditional physical senses such as vision, hearing, taste, smell and touch to identify it. This alleged ability is sometimes referred to as a sixth sense or ESP. We were able to show that while observers could reliably sense changes that they could not visually identify, this ability was not due to extrasensory perception or a sixth sense," he said. 

    In the study, observers were presented with pairs of color photographs, both of the same female. In some cases, her appearance would be different in the two photographs. For example, the individual might have a different hairstyle. 

    An example trial from the first experiment. Two portraits of the same individual were shown separated by a blank interval. The observer was first asked if a change occurred and, if they indicated that one had, they were then asked to indicate which change had occurred from a list of nine possible changes. The subject of the photograph has given written informed consent, as outlined in the PLOS consent form, to publication of their photograph. 
    Credit: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084490

    Each photograph was presented for 1.5 seconds with a 1 second break between them. After the last photograph, the observer was asked whether a change had occurred and, if so, identify the change from a list of nine possible changes.

    Results showed study participants could generally detect when a change had occurred even when they could not identify exactly what had changed. For example, they might notice that the two photographs had different amounts of red or green but not be able to use this information to determine that the person had changed the colour of their hat. 

    The number of only-sense trials, out of a total of 100 trials where a change occurred, corrected for possible observer response bias. Error bars represent the standard error of the mean. 
    Credit: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084490

    This resulted in the observer "feeling" or "sensing" that a change had occurred without being able to visually identify the change. Thus, the result that observers can reliably feel or sense when a change has occurred without being able to visually identify the change could be explained without invoking an extrasensory mechanism.

    Citation: Howe PDL, Webb ME (2014) Detecting Unidentified Changes. PLoS ONE 9(1): e84490. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084490. Source: University of Melbourne


    Michael Martinez
    Their claims are a little beyond the reach of the science.  If there is such a thing as a "sixth sense" then they should have a model that predicts how many people might have it and if there is a genetic connection to that "sixth sense".  Without such a model they would be blindly testing and might miss an entire small sub-population due to inadequate sample size.
    Their first experiment closely resembles some aspects of intelligence tests I have taken (prior to 1985, the year of the Nakayama-Silverman study they cite as an early example of this experiment).  I wonder if this experiment would not benefit from some cross-disciplinary analysis.  When did psychologists first start using comparative imagery in intelligence test (yes, I realize I am opening a can of worms by bringing this up)?

    Disproving "psychic" things is a really tough thing to do.  We probably don't yet have the science to do it.  For example, suppose you have a subject who really can "communicate with the spirits".  You might devise all sorts of credible experiments to test this ability but if the spirits choose not to participate the subject would fail every experiment and yet still possess a real (but unverified) ability.

    So inevitably to disprove the ability to communicate with spirits you have to prove there are no spirits OR that such communication is impossible (if the spirits exist).  Equally so, to prove there is no sixth sense you have to show that these experiments are valid for all subgroups of our population (perhaps all subgroups within historical periods, allowing even for subgroups that have been recently exterminated or lost).

    I'm not sure they have really proven anything useful at all.  Maybe the intelligence tests can be re-examined on the basis of this experimentation.  Is there a real correlation between these visualization abilities (the "mindsight" and "blindsight") and measurable intelligence; and, if so, is there a causal relationship in there somewhere (or is it just a correlative relationship)?
    Disproving "psychic" things is a really tough thing to do.
    There isn't much in the way of anything that science can disprove. This falsification-as-ubercard thing was invented by people who don't really understand science. I cannot, for example, disprove you are an alien. That doesn't mean it is scientifically invalid to say you are not an alien.

    What instead was done - over a period of four decades - was trying to prove psychic or other paranormal ability. It failed. That's science.
    Michael Martinez
    "What instead was done - over a period of four decades - was trying to prove psychic or other paranormal ability. It failed. That's science."

    I'm not sure much science has gone into proving any of these paranormal claims.  :)

    I don't understand the underlying theory (if there is any).  It seems to be rather incoherent, not to mention all the blatant fraud that has occurred (documented by court proceedings and the occasional self-disclosure by some of the frauds themselves).

    The topic is polarizing, however, and there is plenty of pseudoscience on the debunkery side.  Without a coherent hypothesis to test, what is the point of all the testing?

    Science still has much to learn, and in that learning may open some doors that today seem closed or non-existent.  For example, work being done on human-machine interfaces by "reading" (and interpreting) brain waves shows promise.  Who knows where that will lead?  It may make "psychics" look rather tame.
    This research was done by a person who doesn't know any scientific research. ESP is not picking up faces. We have a computer programme developed for pattern recognition using various techniques in our university and it can identify any slightest change or decolaration of any picture or a face. Do you still think that computer too have ESP? You don't need any humans to perform the above experiment and just a computer program can do the face recognition.
    Do not haze to publish things and destroy the credibility of science.
    Prof . Wijeratne