Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Cognitive Psychology: Attention · Decision making · Learning · Judgement · Memory · Motivation · Perception · Reasoning · Thinking  - Cognitive processes Cognition - Outline Index

Extra-Sensory Perception (ESP) is the apparent ability to acquire information by paranormal means independent of any known physical senses or deduction from previous experience. The term was coined by Duke University researcher J. B. Rhine to denote psychic abilities such as telepathy, precognition and clairvoyance.[1][2] ESP is also sometimes casually referred to as a sixth sense. The term implies sources of information currently unexplained by science.

Skeptics say the phenomena of ESP does not really exist, but merely seems to exist as a result such things as self-delusion, or of magician's techniques such as cold reading and hot reading.[3]

Types of ESP

Specific types of claimed extra-sensory perception include:

  • Paranormal perception of people, places or events by means of clairvoyance (remote viewing).
  • Perception of other times via precognition, or retrocognition. This is usually considered to be the same as clairvoyance, except that the perception travels through time.
  • Perception of aspects of others which most people cannot perceive, such as aura reading, medical intuition, clairsentience and telepathy etc.
  • Perception of aspects of things which most people cannot perceive, by means of psychometry, clairvoyance, clairaudience, clairsentience, clairalience and clairgustance.
  • The ability to sense communications from and/or communicate with people in remote locations (telepathy).
  • The ability to perceive environments or communications while psychically "at" a remote location by means of Out-of-body experiences (also called spirit walking and astral projection), or while in other dimensions.
  • The ability to communicate with the souls (spirits) of persons or animals who have died via mediumship (séancing). Mediumship is an umbrella term which primarily means that a person is able to communicate with deceased persons or allow deceased persons to communicate through the medium by temporarily using his or her body (trance mediumship). But mediumship may also include other paranormal abilities such as clairvoyance and clairaudience, the ability to have out-of-body experiences, and psychokinesis (physical mediumship).

A person capable of using ESP is often referred to as a psychic or as having psychic powers.

The scientific study of paranormal phenomena such as ESP is called parapsychology, and includes other phenomena such as and reincarnation, near-death experiences, and psychokinesis.

History of ESP

The notion of extra-sensory perception existed in antiquity. In many ancient cultures, such powers were ascribed to people who purported to use them for second sight or communicate with deities, ancestors, spirits, and the like.

Extra-sensory perception and hypnosis

When Franz Anton Mesmer and Grigori Rasputin were first popularizing hypnosis, the legend came about that a person who was hypnotized would be able to demonstrate ESP. Carl Sargent, a psychology major at the University of Cambridge, heard about the early claims of a hypnosis–ESP link and designed an experiment to test whether they had merit. He recruited 40 fellow college students, none of whom identified him- or herself as having ESP, and then divided them into a group that would be hypnotized before being tested with a pack of 25 Zener cards, and a control group that would be tested with the same Zener cards. The control subjects averaged a score of 5 out of 25 right, exactly what chance would indicate. The subjects who were hypnotized did more than twice as well, averaging a score of 11.9 out of 25 right. Sargent's own interpretation of the experiment is that ESP is associated with a relaxed state of mind and a freer, more atavistic level of consciousness. Skeptics believe that Sargent's experiments lacked proper controls.

J.B. Rhine

In the 1930s, at Duke University in North Carolina, J. B. Rhine and his wife Louisa tried to develop psychical research into an experimental science. To avoid the connotations of hauntings and the seance room, they renamed it "parapsychology." While Louisa Rhine concentrated on collecting accounts of spontaneous cases, J. B. Rhine worked largely in the laboratory, carefully defining terms such as ESP and psi and designing experiments to test them. A simple set of cards was developed, originally called Zener cards [4] (after their designer)—now called ESP cards. They bear the symbols circle, square, wavy lines, cross, and star; there are five cards of each in a pack of 25.

In a telepathy experiment the "sender" looks at a series of cards while the "receiver" guesses the symbols. To try to observe clairvoyance, the pack of cards is hidden from everyone while the receiver guesses. To try to observe precognition, the order of the cards is determined after the guesses are made.

In all such experiments the order of the cards must be random so that hits are not obtained through systematic biases or prior knowledge. At first the cards were shuffled by hand, then by machine. Later, random number tables were used and, nowadays, computers. An advantage of ESP cards is that statistics can easily be applied to determine whether the number of hits obtained is higher than would be expected by chance. Rhine used ordinary people as subjects and claimed that, on average, they did significantly better than chance expectation. Later he used dice to test for psychokinesis and also claimed results that were better than chance.

In 1940, Rhine, J.G. Pratt, and others at Duke authored a review of all card-guessing experiments conducted internationally since 1882. Titled Extrasensory Perception After Sixty Years, it has become recognised as the first meta-analysis in science.[5] It included details of replications of Rhine's studies. Through these years, 50 studies were published, of which 33 were contributed by investigators other than Rhine and the Duke University group; 61% of these independent studies reported significant results suggestive of ESP.[6] Among these were psychologists at Colorado University and Hunter College, New York, who completed the studies with the largest number of trials and the highest levels of significance.[7][8] Replication failures encouraged Rhine to further research into the conditions necessary to experimentally produce the effect. He maintained, however, that it was not replicability, or even a fundamental theory of ESP that would evolve research, but only a greater interest in unconscious mental processes and a more complete understanding of human personality.[9]

Early British research

One of the first statistical studies of ESP, using card-guessing, was conducted by Ina Jephson, in the 1920s. She reported mixed findings across two studies. More successful experiments were conducted with procedures other than card-guessing. G.N.M. Tyrrell used automated target-selection and data-recording in guessing the location of a future point of light. Whateley Carington experimented on the paranormal cognition of drawings of randomly selected words, using participants from across the globe. J. Hettinger studied the ability to retrieve information associated with token objects. All reported evidence suggestive of extra-sensory perception.

Less successful was University of London mathematician Samuel Soal in his attempted replications of the card-guessing studies. However, following a hypothesis suggested by Carington on the basis of his own findings, Soal re-analysed his data for evidence of what Carington termed displacement. Soal discovered, to his surprise, that two of his former participants evidenced displacement: i.e., their responses significantly corresponded to targets for trials one removed from which they were assigned. Soal sought to confirm this finding by testing these participants in new experiments. Conducted during the war years, into the 1950s, under tightly controlled conditions, they produced highly significant results suggestive of precognitive telepathy. His findings were especially convincing for many other scientists and philosophers regarding telepathy and the claims of Rhine. Critics offered claims of fraud, the invalidity of probability theory to science, and the possibility of unconscious whispering, as accounting for Soal's results. These charges against Soal, and spirited defenses by his colleagues, continued until after his death in 1975. In 1978, parapsychologists largely abandoned any further defence of the findings when a computer-based analysis identified inexplicable sequences in the target lists used for one of Soal's experiments.

Sequence, position and psychological effects

Rhine and other parapsychologists found that some subjects, or some conditions, produced significant below-chance scoring (psi-missing); or that scores declined during testing (the "decline effect"). Personality measures have also been tested. People who believe in psi ("sheep") tend to score above chance, while those who do not believe in psi ("goats") show null results or psi-missing. This has became known as the "sheep-goat effect".

Prediction of decline and other position effects has proved challenging, although they have been often identified in data gathered for the purpose of observing other effects.[10] Personality and attitudinal effects have shown greater predictability, with meta-analysis of parapsychological databases showing the sheep-goat effect, and other traits, to have significant and reliable effects over the accumulated data.[11][12]

Cognitive and humanistic research

In the 1960s, in line with the development of cognitive psychology and humanistic psychology, parapsychologists became increasingly interested in the cognitive components of ESP, the subjective experience involved in making ESP responses, and the role of ESP in psychological life. Memory, for instance, was offered as a better model of psi than perception. This called for experimental procedures that were not limited to Rhine's favoured forced-choice methodology. Free-response measures, such as used by Carington in the 1930s, were developed with attempts to raise the sensitivity of participants to their cognitions. These procedures included relaxation, meditation, REM-sleep, and the Ganzfeld (a mild sensory deprivation procedure). These studies have proved to be even more successful than Rhine's forced-choice paradigm, with meta-analyses evidencing reliable effects, and many confirmatory replication studies.[13][14] Methodological hypotheses have still been raised to explain the results, while others have sought to advance theoretical development in parapsychology on their bases. Moving research out of the laboratory and into naturalistic settings, and taking advantage of naturally occurring conditions, has been a related development.

Scientific investigation of ESP

Main article: Parapsychology

The scientific field which investigates psi phenomena such as ESP is called parapsychology. The scientific consensus in the field of parapsychology is that certain types of psychic phenomena such as psychokinesis, telepathy, and precognition are well established scientifically.[15][16][17]

Scientists who study ESP include Dean Radin, author of the popular books The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena and Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality. For 15 years he has investigated psi phenomena through appointments at Princeton University, University of Edinburgh, University of Nevada, SRI International, Boundary Institute, and Interval Research Corporation. He is presently Laboratory Director at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, California.

ESP phenomena however have and continue to be tested elsewhere as well. Sony labs for example performed a series of experiments to evaluate the possible utility of such phenomena for possible commercial ventures. After the investigations, Sony spokesman Masanobu Sakaguchi reported: "We found out experimentally that yes, ESP exists, but that any practical application of this knowledge is not likely in the foreseeable future."[18]

No agreement exists on the cellular basis of a psi receptor and transmitter. However, medical researcher Kenneth J. Dillon argues that the red blood cells act with a kind of primitive intelligence and fulfill the criteria for the psi receptor and transmitter.[19]

Ongoing debates about the existence of ESP

Proponents of the existence of ESP point to numerous scientific studies that appear to offer evidence of the phenomenon's existence: the work of J. B. Rhine, Russell Targ, Harold E. Puthoff and physicists at SRI International in the 1970s, are often cited in arguments that ESP exists. However, books such as James Randi's The Truth About Uri Geller, which examines the claims of the titular psychic, claim that these studies were not conducted with proper scientific controls, and that when alleged psychics such as Geller are tested with such controls in place, they have not shown the ability to produce results greater than would be accounted for by chance. However, James Randi's credentials as a disinterested scientific observer have been questioned.[20][21]

The study of ESP suffers from a great lack of skeptics who are both emotionally disinterested and have adequate credentials to evaluate the field. Such criticism is extremely valuable in any scientific field, because it allows experiments to be refined to the point that the evidence becomes compelling.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

In general, some ESP studies have failed to find any evidence of the phenomenon, and a few of those studies that have produced apparent evidence for its existence are marred by fraud or methodological flaws. However, the laboratory methods of testing for ESP have been subjected to repeated rounds of criticism, after which parapsychologists improved their testing methods. Many of these improvements were aimed at preventing study subjects from cheating or from consciously or unconsciously obtaining information which might bias the results of the studies. Contrary to the prediction of skeptics however, ESP studies have continued to produce statistically significant results, in spite of the improvements in methodology.[22] Dr. Dean Radin said that in recent years even many skeptics of parapsychology have had to admit that these phenomena are worthy of further funding and research.[16] (Radin, 1997: 205-227)[23] But many ESP researchers claim that the phenomenon is a "taboo" subject in the scientific and materialist/rationalist communities, resulting in sociological rather than scientific barriers to research, and in denial of funding for further study and theoretical development.

Difficulties testing ESP

It has been suggested that ESP may have a subtle rather than an overt effect, and that the ability to perceive may be altered by the nature of the event being perceived. For example, some proponents of ESP claim that predicting whether a loved one was just involved in a car crash might have a stronger effect than sensing which playing card was drawn from a deck, even though the latter is better suited for scientific studies in the laboratory. This dependence of ESP on the mental states of the participants, and on the meaning of the events to those participants, is one reason why many scientists remain skeptical.

Proponents of ESP such as biologist Rupert Sheldrake point to cases of ESP involving subjects who are familiar with each other that they believe indicate a positive demonstration of ESP abilities. [2]. Critics respond to Sheldrake's claims by arguing that his experiments are methodologically flawed and lack proper controls such as sufficient randomization, that they are not peer-reviewed, and as such, that they are not scientifically reliable. Sheldrake has responded to many critics. For example, he explains that he has tried countless randomization techniques, often employing methods suggested by critics, but that he still obtained results greater than chance each time. The Responses to 14 of his critics have been published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies (Vol 12 No. 6, 2005).

Critics of experimental parapsychology hold that there are no consistent and agreed-upon standards by which "ESP powers" may be tested, in the way one might test for, say, electrical current or the chemical composition of a substance. It is argued that when self-proclaimed psychics are challenged by skeptics and fail to prove their alleged powers, they assign all sorts of reasons for their failure, such as that the skeptic is affecting the experiment with "negative energy." The non-empirical nature of this response, as well as the practice of charlatanry in ESP and psychic circles,[24] is given by critics to conclude that the existence of the phenomena cannot be established scientifically by anything other than statistically strong evidence from properly controlled laboratory studies. When statistical evidence from properly controlled laboratory studies is produced, however, critics typically propose one or another means by which the evidence does not suit their definition of acceptable evidence.

For a number of decades, Princeton University had a lab called the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research laboratory, or PEAR. Robert G. Jahn, former dean of Princeton’s engineering school and an emeritus professor, lead the research in the study of ESP. Analyzing data from controlled trials, the PEAR team found that humans could alter the behavior of random number producing machines very slightly, changing about 2 or 3 flips out of 10,000.[25].

The main current debate concerning ESP surrounds whether or not such statistically compelling laboratory evidence has already been accumulated.[26][16] Some dispute the positive interpretation of results obtained in scientific studies of ESP, as the most compelling and repeatable results are all small to moderate statistical results. Parapsychologists have argued that the data from numerous studies show that certain individuals have consistently produced remarkable results while the remaider have constituted a highly significant trend that cannot be dismissed even if the effect is small.[27] Critics have argued that the significance of these effects are only due to a larger number of unsuccessful studies not being published; the so-called "file drawer" problem. However, as detailed by Dr. Dean Radin in his book The Conscious Universe, there are standard ways to control for this problem, and meta-analyses which do so still show highly statistically significant positive results. Critics have also argued that the very large number of trials which must be conducted to obtain statistically significant results constitutes a problem for verifying the legitimacy of ESP. However, other areas of science, such as the medical field, rely heavily on this method of data collection. For example, the statistical indications of the positive effect of aspirin on the heart are less than many ESP results, yet their existence is considered well-evidenced.[16]


Main article: Criticism and response in parapsychology

A great deal of reported Extra Sensory Perception is said to occur spontaneously in conditions which are not scientifically controlled. Such experiences are often been reported to be much stronger and more obvious than those observed in laboratory experiments. These reports, rather than laboratory evidence, have historically been the basis for the extremely widespread belief in the authenticity of these phenomena. However, because it has proven extremely difficult (perhaps impossible) to replicate such extraordinary experiences under controlled scientific conditions; unproven hearsay. Eyewitness accounts are often flawed; that memories tend to be become modified when the experience is often spoken about or when there is emotional involvement in the subject matter; and that people are wont to misinterpret anomalous occurrences which, while unusual, may have perfectly normal explanations. On the other hand, proponents of the reality of ESP argue that the existence of even small effects in a laboratory setting tend to militate for the argument that spontaneous occurrences of ESP are authentic. However, in the absence of an easily and reliably replicable laboratory experiment which can show a strong ESP effect, and without any theoretical explanation of how ESP might work, this debate remains unresolved (also see parapsychology).[16]

Among scientists in the National Academy of Sciences, 96% described themselves as "skeptical" of ESP, although 2% believed in psi and 10% felt that parapsychological research should be encouraged.[28] The National Academy of Sciences had previously sponsored the Enhancing Human Performance report on mental development programs, which was critical of parapsychology.[29]

A scientific methodology that shows statistically significant evidence for ESP with nearly 100% consistency has yet to be discovered, and that the lack of such a definitive experiment may indicate that there is no credible scientific evidence for the existence of ESP. The lack of a viable theory of the mechanism behind ESP is also frequently cited as a source of skepticism. Historical cases in which flaws have been discovered in the experimental design of parapsychological studies, and the occasional cases of fraud marred the field.[30]

Those who think that ESP may exist say that very few experiments in psychology, biology, or medicine can be reproduced at will with consistent results. Parapsychologists such as Dean Radin argue that the extremely positive results from reputable studies, when analyzed using meta-analysis, provide strong evidence for ESP that is almost impossible to account for using any other means except broad-based charges of fraud.[16]

One example of purported ESP in the media

An example of an ESP experiment covered by the popular news media is that of a dog in England named Jaytee, who his owners claimed had an ability to sense when one of them was leaving work to come home (which he allegedly displayed by running out to the porch at that time). Rupert Sheldrake tested Jaytee extensively, including more than 50 videotaped trials, and claimed that his tests had shown that the dog had ESP ability. Two scientists from the University of Hertfordshire, Richard Wiseman and Matthew Smith, then used Sheldrake's video camera setup, conducted 4 trials of their own and claimed that the dog had no such ability. Wiseman and Smith concluded that while Jaytee made several trips to the window during the day, the action was more in response to having heard some kind of noise outside.[31] However, Sheldrake said that the data they collected actually matched his own data. Sheldrake has commented on the experiment conducted by Wiseman:

"As in my own experiments, he sometimes went to the window at other times, for example to bark at passing cats, but he was at the window far more when Pam was on her way home than when she was not. In the three experiments Wiseman did in Pam's parents' flat, Jaytee was at the window an average of 4% of the time during the main period of Pam's absence, and 78% of the time when she was on the way home. This difference was statistically significant"[32]

See also


  1. Parapsychological Association website, Glossary of Key Words Frequently Used in Parapsychology, Retrieved December 24, 2006
  2. Websters defintion of ESP
  3. Skeptic's Dictionary by Robert Todd Carroll, Retrieved June 23, 2007
  4. David Vernon in Skeptical - a Handbook of Pseudoscience and the Paranormal, ed Donald Laycock, David Vernon, Colin Groves, Simon Brown, Imagecraft, Canberra, 1989, ISBN 0731657942, p28
  5. Bösch, H. (2004). Reanalyzing a meta-analysis on extra-sensory perception dating from 1940, the first comprehensive meta-analysis in the history of science. Paper presented at the 47th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association, Vienna University.
  6. Honorton, C. (1975). Error some place! Journal of Communication, 25, 103-116.
  7. Martin, D.R., & Stribic, F.P. (1938). Studies in extrasensory perception: I. An analysis of 25, 000 trials. Journal of Parapsychology, 2, 23-30.
  8. Riess, B.F. (1937). A case of high scores in card guessing at a distance. Journal of Parapsychology, 1, 260-263.
  9. Rhine, J.B. (1966). Foreword. In Pratt, J.G., Rhine, J.B., Smith, B.M., Stuart, C.E., & Greenwood, J.A. (eds.). Extra-Sensory Perception After Sixty Years, 2nd ed. Boston, US: Humphries.
  10. Beloff, J. (1986). Retrodiction. Parapsychology Review, 17 (1), 1-5.
  11. Lawrence, T. R. (1993). Gathering in the sheep and goats: A meta-analysis of forced-choice sheep-goat ESP studies, 1947-1993. Proceedings of the Parapsychological Association 36th Annual Convention, pp. 75-86
  12. Honorton, C., Ferrari, D. C., & Bem, D. J. (1998). Extraversion and ESP performance: A meta-analysis and a new confirmation. Journal of Parapsychology, 62 (3), 255-276.
  13. Sherwood, S. J. & Roe, C. (2003). A review of dream ESP studies conducted since the Maimonides studies. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 10, 85-109.
  14. Bem, D. J. et al.(2001). Updating the Ganzfeld database. Journal of Parapsychology, 65, 207-218.
  15. Criticism and Controversy in Parapsychology - An Overview By Eberhard Bauer, Department of Psychology, University of Freiburg, in the European Journal of Parapsychology, 1984, 5, 141-166, Retrieved February 09, 2007
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 Radin, Dean I. (1997). The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena, HarperSanFrancisco. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "ConsciousUniverse" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "ConsciousUniverse" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "ConsciousUniverse" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "ConsciousUniverse" defined multiple times with different content
  17. What is the state-of-the-evidence for psi? Retrieved January 31, 2007
  18. South China Morning Post.July 7, 1998. Link:
  20. Skeptical Investigations "Skeptics or Dogmatists". Skeptical URL accessed on 2006-11-06.
  21. Las Vegas Weekly "Questions for Skeptics". URL accessed on 2006-11-06.
  22. The American Institutes for Research "An Evaluation of Remote Viewing: Research and Applications". URL accessed on 2006-11-06.
  23. Closer to Truth "What is Parapsychology". URL accessed on 2006-11-06.
  25. [1]
  26. Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality by Dean I. Radin, Simon & Schuster, Paraview Pocket Books , 2006 ISBN-13: 978-1416516774
  27. Psychological Bulletin 1994, Vol. 115, No. 1, 4-18. Does Psi Exist? Replicable Evidence for an Anomalous Process of Information Transfer By Daryl J. Bem and Charles Honorton
  28. McConnell, R.A., and Clark, T.K. (1991). "National Academy of Sciences' Opinion on Parapsychology" Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 85, 333-365.
  29. Retrieved February 04, 2007
  30. Carroll, Robert Todd (2005). The Skeptic's Dictionary; ESP (extrasensory perception). URL accessed on 2006-09-13.

Further reading

  • The Conscious Universe, by Dean Radin, Harper Collins, 1997, ISBN 0-06-251502-0.
  • Entangled Minds by Dean Radin, Pocket Books, 2006
  • Milbourne Christopher, ESP, Seers & Psychics: What the Occult Really Is, Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1970, ISBN 0-690-26815-7
  • Milbourne Christopher, Mediums, Mystics & the Occult by Thomas Y. Crowell Co, 1975
  • Milbourne Christopher, Search for the Soul , Thomas Y. Crowell Publishers, 1979
  • Georges Charpak, Henri Broch, and Bart K. Holland (tr), Debunked! ESP, Telekinesis, and Other Pseudoscience, (Johns Hopkins University). 2004, ISBN 0-8018-7867-5
  • Hoyt L. Edge, Robert L. Morris, Joseph H. Rush, John Palmer, Foundations of Parapsychology: Exploring the Boundaries of Human Capability, Routledge Kegan Paul, 1986, ISBN 0-7102-0226-1
  • Paul Kurtz, A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology, Prometheus Books, 1985, ISBN 0-87975-300-5
  • Jeffrey Mishlove, Roots of Consciousness: Psychic Liberation Through History Science and Experience. 1st edition, 1975, ISBN 0-394-73115-8, 2nd edition, Marlowe & Co., July 1997, ISBN 1-56924-747-1 There are two very different editions. online
  • John White, ed. Psychic Exploration: A Challenge for Science, published by Edgar D. Mitchell and G. P. Putman, 1974, ISBN 0-399-11342-8
  • Richard Wiseman, Deception and self-deception: Investigating Psychics. Amherst, USA: Prometheus Press. 1997
  • Benjamin B. Wolman, ed, Handbook of Parapsychology, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1977, ISBN 0-442-29576-6
  • Myers, David G. Psychology. Accessed on December 9, 2004. Contains information concerning the Randi Foundation tests.

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).