Study finds evidence for psychic abilities

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A Cornell University academic and part-time magician says he's found evidence that people may have psychic powers.

In Daryl Bem's study, subjects appeared more likely than chance would explain to be able to predict future events and even influence them.

Students were given a list of words to memorize, were asked to repeat as many as they could remember, and were then given a random selection of the original list to type.

Naturally enough, they remembered some words but not others. But Bem found that the words they tended to remember corresponded with those they were later asked to type.

In another experiment, subjects were shown an image of two curtains on a computer screen, and were told that one concealed an erotic picture. After the subject made a selection, the computer randomly opened one or other of the curtains to reveal the naughty pic.

Bem found that the choice made by the subject corresponded with the computer's choice - implying that the subject had influenced the computer to make that selection - more often than could be explained by chance.

Indeed, all but one of nine experiments, involving 1,000 participants, showed statistically significant results - just as much so as, say, the clinical evidence for the efficacy of plenty of drugs. The full statistics are here.

"Near the end of her encounter with the White Queen, Alice protests that “one can’t believe impossible things,” a sentiment with which the 34 percent of academic psychologists who believe psi to be impossible would surely agree," says Bem in his paper.

"Unlike the White Queen, I do not advocate believing impossible things. But perhaps this article will prompt the other 66 percent of academic psychologists to raise their posterior probabilities of believing at least one anomalous thing before breakfast."

His report - which will no doubt be heavily challenged - is published in New Scientist.