Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Neuroimaging Fails To Demonstrate ESP Is Real

Date:
January 4, 2008
Source:
Harvard University
Summary:
Researchers have used neuroimaging to study the existence of ESP. The scientists used brain scanning techniques to determine if the individuals have knowledge that cannot be explained through normal perceptual processing. The results appear to disprove the existence of ESP.

Harvard scientists used brain scanning to test whether individuals have knowledge that cannot be explained through normal perceptual processing.
Credit: iStockphoto/Kiyoshi Takahase Segundo

Psychologists at Harvard University have developed a new method to study extrasensory perception that, they argue, can resolve the century-old debate over its existence. According to the authors, their study not only illustrates a new method for studying such phenomena, but also provides the strongest evidence yet obtained against the existence of extrasensory perception, or ESP.

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.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Harvard University. "Neuroimaging Fails To Demonstrate ESP Is Real." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 January 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080103161531.htm>.
Harvard University. (2008, January 4). Neuroimaging Fails To Demonstrate ESP Is Real. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 14, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080103161531.htm
Harvard University. "Neuroimaging Fails To Demonstrate ESP Is Real." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080103161531.htm (accessed September 14, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Newsy (Sep. 13, 2014) A U.K. survey found that journalists consumed the most amount of coffee, but that's only the tip of the coffee-related statistics iceberg. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) In a small study, researchers found that the majority of long-time smokers quit after taking psilocybin pills and undergoing therapy sessions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Fat Shaming' Might Actually Cause Weight Gain

'Fat Shaming' Might Actually Cause Weight Gain

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) A study for University College London suggests obese people who are discriminated against gain more weight than those who are not. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Common Sleeping, Anxiety Pills Linked To Alzheimer's

Common Sleeping, Anxiety Pills Linked To Alzheimer's

Newsy (Sep. 10, 2014) Researchers found commonly prescribed sleeping and anxiety pills such as Xanax and Valium could lead to an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins