Apparent telepathy in connection with telephone calls is common. Many people say that they have known who was calling when the phone started ringing, or that they have thought of someone for no apparent reason, and that person called soon afterwards (Sheldrake, 2000, 2003; Brown & Sheldrake, 2001).
Is this just a matter of coincidence? Sheldrake & Smart (2003 a, b) have developed a simple experimental procedure for testing whether people really can tell who is calling, under conditions in which they could not know by any "normal" means. A participant receives a call at a prearranged time from one of four potential callers. He or she knows who these callers are. The experimenter chooses the caller at random by throwing a die, and then tells the caller that he or she has been chosen to call at a given time in the near future.
When the telephone rings the participant has to say who is calling before picking up the receiver. These tests are, of course, carried out using telephones without caller identification systems.
By chance, if telepathy played no part, the success rate would be about 1 in 4, or 25%. In fact in a total of more than 850 trials involving a 65 participants, the average success rate was 42% (p= 1x10-26) (Sheldrake, 2003).
The present experiment was carried out in an attempt to replicate the telephone telepathy phenomenon for a television show called "Are You Telepathic?" made by 20/20 Productions and broadcast in the UK on Channel Five Television on June 19, 2003. The participant and her four callers were sisters, who had for years worked together in a girl band, the Nolan Sisters, popular in the UK in the 1980s.
In most of the previous trials, the callers were in different locations from each other and were not filmed. But in one previous experiment, all four callers were in the same location, and the callers as well as the participant were filmed continuously. In that test, carried out in Wakefield, Yorkshire, the participant was 1.5 km away from the four callers. She guessed correctly in 8 out of 17 trials (47%; p = 0.04) (Sheldrake & Smart, 2003a). The present experiment followed the same design as the Wakefield test.