Psychologists at Harvard University using neuroimaging say they have resolved the century-old debate over the existence of Extra-Sensory Perception(ESP) - and it doesn't exist.
The research was led by Samuel Moulton, a graduate student in the department of psychology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University with Stephen Kosslyn, John Lindsley Professor of Psychology at Harvard and was published in the Jan. 2008 issue of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. The scientists used brain scanning to test whether individuals have knowledge that cannot be explained through normal perceptual processing.
"If any ESP processes exist, then participants' brains should respond differently to ESP and non-ESP stimuli," explains Moulton. “Instead, results showed that participants’ brains responded identically to ESP and non-ESP stimuli, despite reacting strongly to differences in how emotional the stimuli were and showing subtle, stimulus-related effects.”
Nearly half of the adults in the United States believe in the existence of ESP, which includes telepathy (direct knowledge of another person's thoughts), clairvoyance (direct knowledge of remote events), and precognition (direct knowledge of the future). People commonly report unexplained knowledge of a loved one's death or a telephone caller's identity, for example, and attribute this knowledge to paranormal mental processing.
The U.S. government lent credence to such claims when it revealed that it had spent millions of dollars recruiting and training psychic spies during the Cold War. Furthermore, research studies have been reported that appear to support the existence of ESP, including an influential series of experiments analyzed by psychologist Daryl Bem of Cornell University. These studies, however, gave little insight into the mechanisms -- normal or paranormal -- that produced the anomalous results. Perhaps more telling, others failed to replicate these results.
To develop a better test of ESP, the authors decided to develop a new method, which directly addressed the presumed source of ESP: namely, the brain. They argue that because the brain enables perception and stores information -- even events people don't consciously perceive or information they can't consciously remember -- it can offer a much more comprehensive test for ESP than self-report or behavior.
"The brain shows a suppressed response to stimuli that a person has seen before, even when those stimuli were presented subliminally, so the person wasn't consciously aware of having seen them; furthermore, it shows an enhanced response to stimuli that a person is expecting," says Moulton. "Because knowledge and expectation bias brain activation, neuroimaging offers us a uniquely powerful test of subtle perceptual or cognitive processes."
To study whether or not ESP exists, Moulton and Kosslyn presented participants with two types of visual stimuli: ESP stimuli and non-ESP stimuli. These two types of stimuli were identical with one exception: ESP stimuli were not only presented visually, but also were presented telepathically, clairvoyantly, and precognitively to participants.
To present stimuli telepathically, the researchers showed the photographs to the participants' identical twin, relative, romantic partner, or friend, who was seated in another room. To present stimuli clairvoyantly, the researchers displayed the photographs on a distant computer screen. And to present stimuli precognitively, the researchers showed participants the photographs again in the future.
Does this conclusively prove that ESP does not exist" "No," says Moulton. "You cannot affirm the null hypothesis. But at the same time, some null results are stronger than others. This is the best evidence to date against the existence of ESP. Perhaps most important, this study offers scientists a new way to study ESP that avoids the pitfalls of past approaches."
This research was supported by the Bial Foundation and the Richard Hodgson Memorial Fund.
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Sam Ting On AMS Results: Dark Matter Might Be One Seminar Away
- Vitriolic Abuse Of Anita Sarkeesian: Why The Games Industry Needs Her
- Why Natural Gas, Including Fracking, Is Better For The Environment Than Wind And Solar
- BICEP2's vision wasn't that strong, Planck says their window was too dusty.
- Graphene Sensor Tracks Down Cancer Biomarkers
- Mysterious 1808 Eruption - The Real Cause Of The Coldest Decade Of The Last 500 Years
- Nature Communications Switching To Exclusive Open Access
- "It's amazing to see the PR machine that Ting has put together at work. Not only do we have to wait..."
- ":) Actually amphetamine salts were not sustainable as an ADHD solution for me. They actually did..."
- "Hi Hontas. This caught my eye: That said, it may be that there simply is no strong signal of inflation..."
- "1.) Fundamentally one can never prove any theory. That's what makes a theory different from..."
- "I thank you for your comment, which I think is very important. Especially the question aboutPerhaps..."
- Note to young men: Fat doesn't pay
- Immune system is key ally in cyberwar against cancer
- Medical students who attended community college likelier to serve poor communities
- Study helps assess impact of temperature on belowground soil decomposition
- Facial masculinity not always a telling factor in mate selection