Mediating factors

A number of variables have been suggested to influence or mediate the potential effects of telepathy; these include the specific target used, the distance between the sender and the receiver, their emotional closeness and levels of belief, as well as some general behavioural characteristics and the earth’s geomagnetic field.

Target

Research examining potential telepathic effects has suggested that using dynamic video clips with accompanying sound may lead to better results compared to the use of silent stationary pictures (Honorton et al., 1990). Others have also agreed that films that show dramatic changes (A. Parker, 2000) or targets that are rich in emotional detail and are dynamic in nature may be more psi-conducive (Bern & Honorton, 1994; Sherwood & Roe, 2003). However, the evidence is not consistent, as some have found that static targets led to higher hit rates compared to dynamic ones in a telepathy experiment (Lantz, Luke, & May, 1994). The researchers suggested that this may be because it is easier to focus on the content of a static image whereas the changing scenes within a dynamic target may make this more difficult to focus on and/or more difficult to receive. Such findings are likely influenced by the precise nature of the task as well as the particular paradigm used. For example, May, Spottiswoode and James (1994) found that dynamic targets were better than static ones, but only when using a free response task. Furthermore, a meta-analysis by Storm et al. (2017) found no difference in the reported hit rate between dynamic and static targets within dream telepathy paradigms.

Distance

Within mainstream signal communications there is an effect referred to as the inverse square law. This is where the intensity of a signal is inversely proportional to the square of its distance from the physical source. Hence, the further away the receiver is from the source the weaker the signal, something many individuals have experienced when far away from a telecommunications mast making it difficult for them to obtain a signal on their mobile phone.

Percentage hit rate as a function of distance as measured in miles (adapted from Sheldrake & Lambert, 2007)

Figure 3.7 Percentage hit rate as a function of distance as measured in miles (adapted from Sheldrake & Lambert, 2007).

However, contrary to this, when Sheldrake and Lambert (2007) conducted an automated telepathy study they found that as distance between participants increased so did the hit rate (see, Figure 3.7). Others testing for telephone telepathy also found no decline in the reported effect as the distance between the caller and receiver increased (Sheldrake & Smart, 2003a, 2003b), with a similar pattern found for research focusing on email telepathy (Sheldrake & Smart, 2005). Such findings are interesting as they would suggest that whatever mechanism is supporting such communications it is not adversely influenced by the distance between those attempting to communicate. It also opens up the possibility of conducting studies across large distances which would eliminate any possibility of sensory leakage or cues.

Feedback

In general, though not in every case, the sender and/or receiver may receive feedback in terms of the accuracy of their hit rate. An assumption here is that if the receiver does well and is given clear feedback they may be able to discern how such decisions are made and learn to improve them. The flip side of this is that if feedback shows performance to be either at chance or lower it can lead to a lack of interest and motivation. For instance, Parker (2000) found higher hit rates when the receiver’s auditory mentations of the possible target were monitored by the sender. Such feedback may help the sender to focus and refine their thinking styles. However, this is not a consistent effect and many have shown that providing immediate feedback does not influence performance (e.g., Sheldrake, 2008; Sheldrake & Beharee, 2016).

Belief and ability

The positive association between belief in psi and performance is still debated, especially given the on-going discussions about whether such beliefs represent psychological traits or states (e.g., Irwin, Marks, & Geiser, 2018). However, it has been suggested that such belief directly influences motivation, which in turn leads to better performance. Alternatively, it could be that those with low levels of belief simply perform much worse than chance (see, Bern & Honorton, 1994). Nevertheless, examination of successes in the ganzfeld paradigm showed a higher hit rate for participants that had higher levels of belief in psi and had reported some psi-type experiences (A Parker, Frederiksen, & Johansson, 1997), though others have found effects even when participants are not selected for their belief (Putz et al., 2007). Contradictory findings have also been reported based on the belief levels of the experimenters (Lobach & Bierman, 2004; Wiseman & Schlitz, 1997). In terms of ability a review of the dream based telepathy research showed that those studies to elicit the largest telepathic effects involved the use of gifted individuals that had been previously selected based on their ability (Sherwood & Roe, 2003). However, this need not be the case for telepathy assessed using other paradigms.

Behavioural characteristics

Honorton et al. (1990) report a significant positive association between extroversion and hit rates found in the ganzfeld studies, suggesting that extroverts may be better suited to this because they exhibit lower levels of cortical arousal than introverts, or that they respond favourably to novel stimuli (see Bern & Honorton, 1994). For instance, in a ganzfeld setting the sensory deprivation may starve the extrovert of stimuli which leads them to become highly sensitive to potentially weak incoming psi signals. Others have found associations between performance on telepathy studies and participants classified as Feeling-Perceiving or Intuitive-Feeling-Perceiving, on measures of personality (Honorton, 1997; Palmer, 1998). Davis (1991) suggested that such aspects of personality were indicative of a right hemisphere dominance. However, when Alexander and Broughton (2001) tested this idea they found no evidence that right hemisphere dominance was associated with more accurate performance. It has also been suggested that those reporting better performance are identified as creative in terms of exhibiting either musical talent or artistic skill (Radin, McAlpine, & Cunningham, 1994). Such artistic individuals, with more divergent thinking styles, may be more receptive to imagery and/or information as well less constrained in reporting such information, both of which may influence the potential hit rates (Bern & Honorton, 1994).

Emotional closeness

Given the fact that telepathy is based on the presumed communication between two, or more, individuals it has been suggested that the emotional closeness of the two could help establish a bond between the sender and receiver which in turn would facilitate the emergence of psi (Schouten, 1982). For instance, Broughton and Alexander (1997) found that using parent-child and sibling combinations as senders and receivers in a ganzfeld telepathy study produced unusually high hit rates. However, the number of participant pairs was too small to draw any firm conclusions. Sheldrake and Smart (2003a, 2003b) also reported higher hit rates of telephone telepathy for sender-receiver pairings that shared some emotional bond compared to when the callers were strangers (see Figure 3.8). A review and meta-analysis of results using the ganzfeld paradigm also showed a significantly higher hit rate when the

Percentage hit rate in a telephone telepathy study as a function of whether the caller was known and familiar (left) or unknown and unfamiliar (right) (adapted from Sheldrake & Smart, 2003b)

Figure 3.8 Percentage hit rate in a telephone telepathy study as a function of whether the caller was known and familiar (left) or unknown and unfamiliar (right) (adapted from Sheldrake & Smart, 2003b).

sender-receiver parings were friends compared to when they were assigned by the laboratory (Bern & Honorton, 1994). Such findings are consistent with the claims that those who experience telepathy mainly do so with familiar people such as friends, siblings and parents (e.g., Schouten, 1982; Sheldrake 2002, 2003). Moreover, it would suggest that telepathy based research should pre-screen individuals and ensure that both sender and receiver have a close bond.

Geomagnetic field fluctuations

All humans on the planet are immersed within the earth’s geomagnetic field (GMF) and it has been suggested that telepathic performance may be related to fluctuations in GMF intensity (Persinger, 1988). For instance, periods of lower GMF activity have been associated with greater levels of accuracy in dream trials (Dalton, Steinkamp, & Sherwood, 1999; Krippner & Persinger, 1996). Others have also found that telepathic performance was better when GMF activity was lower, but only for those participants classified as non-creative. For the creative participants the opposite pattern emerged (Radin et al., 1994). However, some have suggested that the influence of GMF on psi may be mediated by the rotation of the earth with respect to the stars, which is evident in Local Sidereal Time (LST: Ryan, 2008; Spottiswoode, 1997). For instance, Spottiswoode (1997) reported a significant correlation between the accuracy of telepathic responses and the geomagnetic index. In particular, he found a large increase in the magnitude of the correlation occurring between 11.00 and 14.00 hours LST. This led Spottiswoode (1997) to suggest that what seems to be occurring is that psi improves as LST nears 13.00 hours. Furthermore, it would indicate that attempts to elicit psi effects outside of this time range may fail to identify significant results. It is not yet clear why, or how, the earth’s GMF could influence psi. Persinger and Koren (2001) have suggested that such experiences may be related to temporal lobe disturbances; however, this does not explain why local electromagnetic fields cause such effects and/or influence behaviour. Indeed, Adair (1991) argues that the earth’s magnetic field is not sufficiently strong enough to produce any physiological changes in the human body. It is possible that humans may be particularly sensitive to the earth’s GMF, however this is a speculative idea. Spottiswoode (1997) has suggested that rather than fluctuations in the magnetic field causing the changes in psi it is more likely that psi effects are being mediated by some other parameter associated with the GMF changes. Nevertheless, Radin et al. (1994) suggest that it is worth monitoring the GMF as this may help to illuminate the possible mechanisms of telepathy.

 
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