Pendulums magnify unconscious movements. If one holds a pendulum and thinks of a particular motion, subtle muscle movements will swing the pendulum in that direction. This phenomenon, known as the ideomotor effect, usually occurs without perceived conscious control over the motion. As such, for centuries people have queried pendulums and interpreted their movements as responses from the divine — or the subconscious. Recent studies with Ouija boards have found that people can sometimes answer questions more accurately with ideomotor rather than verbal responses. The personality traits that predict these differences in accuracy remain unknown; we thus examined several of them and their relation to ideomotor performance.
Eighty participants completed two computer tasks. In the Verbal Task, participants searched for a letter among numbers presented at 33 ms each — too fast for reliable conscious detection. Participants then verbally stated whether they saw the letter, which was present in half of the trials. In the Pendulum Task, participants did a similar procedure but instead asked a hand-held pendulum whether the letter was present; we told them vertical swinging meant “yes” and horizontal swinging meant “no”. The dependent variable was the accuracy of their responses on each trial. We also assessed four personality measures: faith in intuition (preference for intuitive thinking), need for cognition (preference for analytical thinking), transliminality (sensitivity to subtle stimuli), and locus of control (feelings of control over life events). From these measures we used logistic regression to predict task accuracy.
The results showed that different measures predicted accuracy between the tasks. In the Verbal Task, people with more faith in intuition performed better (standardised odds ratio [OR] = 1.09); in the Pendulum Task, those with a higher need for cognition performed worse (OR = 0.93). Also in the Pendulum Task, people more sensitive to subtle stimuli performed better (OR = 1.15). In both tasks, participants who felt more control over their lives had higher performance (Verbal OR = 1.07, Pendulum OR = 1.18). Overall, people were more accurate in the Verbal Task (57%) than in the Pendulum Task (53%), with chance-level performance at 50% (all p values < .001). These results may help explain why some people can accurately answer questions with pendulums and Ouija boards. More broadly, identifying the conditions in which ideomotor responses are more accurate than verbal responses could lead to practical ways to improve decision-making.
|Olson, J., & Raz, A. (2016, October). Personality predictors of pendulum performance: Individuals differences in ideomotor response. Oral presentation at the 67th Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis Conference, Boston, MA. |