A number of recent studies have explored the notion that individuals may be able to exhibit psi phenomena such as extra sensory perception without explicit intent or awareness. These studies such as those involving prestimulus response (Radin, 1997) and precognitive habituation (Bem, 2003) have all attempted to capture evidence of psi via tacit means by engaging participants in activities in which the nature of their behaviour or physiological responses is seemly influenced by factors occurring outside of their explicit awareness. Promising findings from these studies fit well with theoretical perspectives which propose psi as primarily an unconscious process, with some (e.g. Broughton, 2010) suggesting that psi-mediated outcomes may serve evolutionarily adaptive purposes for the exhibiting organism. One theory which conforms closely to these assertions is Stanford’s (e.g. 1990) ‘Psi-mediated Instrumental Response’ (PMIR) model of psi. The PMIR model consists of a number of elements but essentially claims that that psi may play an unconscious role in triggering pre-existing behavioural functions in response to opportunities or threats in the environment which ultimately lead to outcomes beneficial to the organism.
Several of these predictions were, in part, the focus of a series of four studies by Luke, Delanoy and Sherwood (2008), Luke, Roe and Davison (2008) and Luke (2009) and a recent replication attempt by Hitchman, Roe and Sherwood (2010), presented at last year’s conference. All of the studies made use of the same fundamental computer-based experimental task which involved presenting participants with sets of four fractal images and asking them to quickly select their preferred image from the set. At the time of completing the task, participants were unaware that immediately after they had registered their preference, the computer ran a pseudo-random process in order to select one of the images as a target. Trials were deemed as ‘hits’ if the participant’s preferred image matched with the computer’s random selection, otherwise the trials were scored as ‘misses’. This thereby constituted a tacit, forced-choice precognition task with performance in relation to the number of hits expected by chance being rewarded or punished accordingly. Those participants who scored greater than the mean chance expectation (MCE) went on to partake in a positive reward task, whereas those who scored lower than the MCE were directed towards a task designed to be boring and mildly unpleasant. These studies also explored a number of psychological factors which were predicted to be correlated with participants’ performance at the tacit psi task, including individuals’ conceptualisation of luck and their perceived personal luckiness as well as their paranormal beliefs, openness to experience and aspects of their creativity.
With their results combined, the original four studies yielded mean psi score of 2.92 which was found to be significantly greater than would be expected by chance alone (MCE = 2.50, t = 4.04, p = 0.000078, two-tailed). Promising but inconsistent indicative evidence of the proposed psychological correlates was also found and was thought to warrant efforts towards further exploration. The attempted replication by Hitchman, Roe and Sherwood (2010) was therefore primarily intended to explore whether other researchers could similarly demonstrate a significant extra-sensory effect using the same tacit psi task whilst also attempting to clarify the role of the psychological factors predicted to be related to participants’ unconscious precognitive performance. This study utilised a revised computer program, re-written in an alternative programming language, and also increased the number of experimental psi trials per participant from 10 to 15. Participants in this study also achieved more hits on average than would be expected by chance, (mean = 4.02 hits, versus MCE = 3.75 hits), although they were found not to significantly outperform the MCE (t = 1.14, p = 0.13, one tailed). In relation to the psychological correlates, the tenuous links between participants’ performance at the tacit psi task and their conceptualisations and beliefs about luck and their creativity were not supported. However, a significant correlation was found between the number of hits they achieved and their level of openness to experience (r = .29, p = .02, one-tailed). Fundamentally, openness to experience had been used as an experimental proxy for the wider concepts of latent inhibition (Lublow, 1989) and lability (after Holt and Roe, 2006), thought respectively to diminish organisms’ sensitivity and responsiveness to psi stimuli. However, openness itself is an indirect and incomplete measure of these concepts.
AIMS OF THE PRESENT STUDY
The purpose of the present study was to explore the relationship between performance at the psi task and a more comprehensive measure of lability. The experiment also presented an opportunity to compare intentional and non-intentional versions of the psi task to see if the conscious intent of participants bore on the number of hits they achieved as well as to explore the influence of feedback. The study used a modified version of the computer based method utilised in the Hitchman, Roe and Sherwood (2010) study, developed to incorporate a trial-by-trial feedback mechanism where participants received a contingent reward or punishment in the form of positive or negative emotive images at the end of each trial. Moreover, the design was modified to include an intentional version of the task in which participants attempted to wilfully achieve positive rewards by means of precognition. Crucially, a broader composite questionnaire measure of lability was implemented into the data collection process.
Analyses will involve comparing precognitive performance with the number of hits expected by chance for both intentional and non-intentional versions of the task as well as assessing the correlations between scores at the psi task and the measure of lability. Data collection is nearing completion and the presentation will include a summary of the results.
|Hitchman, G. A., Roe, C. A., & Sherwood, S. J. (2011, September). Relationship between lability and performance in intentional and non-intentional PMIR-type psi tasks. Paper presented at the Society for Psychical Research 35th International Conference, Edinburgh University, UK. Abstract retrieved from http://www.spr.ac.uk/main/page/conference-abstracts-2011|