Subject Variables in ESP Performance

Parapsychologists have given much attention to the identification of successful ESP
Apart from throwing some light on the nature of ESP such research has the pragmatic
justification that
if investigators can select a sample of people who are relatively open to
extrasensory experiences,
then there is a greater chance of achieving statistically significant results in
experimental work.
The major personalistic variables that have been investigated are attitudes, mood,
personality, although increasing attention is being given to physiological and
cognitive variables. In
the following review some reference is made for comparative purposes to the
correlates of
spontaneous ESP experiences.
Attitudes and Beliefs
The best known work on the contribution of attitudes to ESP performance was
conducted by
Gertrude Schmeidler (1952; Schmeidler & McConnell, 1958). She began by dividing ESP
subjects in
two groups, one group designated �sheep� comprising people who believed in the
possibility of ESP
and a second group of so-called �goats� who rejected that possibility. On pooling
scores on ESP tests
over a number of such groups Schmeidler established a trend for sheep to score
above MCE and for
goats to score significantly below chance level.
Separating �the sheep from the goats� in terms of ESP belief therefore also tends
to differentiate
two types of ESP performer. The result for sheep is interesting although perhaps
not surprising: it is
consistent with other cognitive research that suggests people attend to information
they want to and
perceive what they believe can be perceived. The result for goats is most
fascinating. Not only does it
confirm an effect of attitudes on the occurrence of ESP, it also reminds us of the
adage that there are
none so blind as those who will not see. But the fact that goats� mean ESP score is
below chance suggests these people are not merely directing their attention away
from extrasensory
information nor blocking its cognitive processing; rather they seem to be
identifying ESP targets at an
extra-chance level and then unwittingly choosing a different target as their
response. By making more
incorrect responses than expected by chance, goats seemingly use ESP in a self-
defeating endeavor to
support their belief that ESP does not exist. It is not that goats are
intrinsically insensitive to
extrasensory information, but that their attitude affects how they deal with such
The sheep-goat effect is one of the more successfully replicated relationships in
ESP research (Palmer, 1977), even if the overall effect size (0.03) is very small
(Lawrence, 1993).
Later work, however, indicates that �attitude to ESP� is more complex than one at
first might think.
�Do I believe in ESP?� may subsume many distinct attitudes and beliefs, including

Personality There has been considerable empirical interest in determining the personality . that is. When she disguised an ESP test as a procedure for �disproving ESP. 2001.�Would I like ESP to exist?� �Do I think I have ESP?� �Do I think I will exhibit ESP in this particular experiment?� �Can I suspend my natural skepticism toward ESP for the duration of this experiment?� �Do I think this ESP experiment will work (for people in general)?� and �Do I think this experimenter can elicit my ESP?� The measurement. dull. Carpenter also reports that large run-score variance is associated with fearless. suggests the effect does stem from an attitude. One constructive (i. One experiment by Lovitts (1981). detached or dreamy. That beliefs are more fundamental in the sheep-goat effect than are specific dimensions of personality and adjustment remains to be established. ESP missing is best predicted by a socially anxious mood. Evidently mood does influence ESP scores. scope and correlates of paranormal belief currently represent a very active area of research (see Chapter 15). This indicates that the sheep-goat effect arises from subjects� use of ESP in conformance with their beliefs about it. Carpenter�s most recent research has focused on free- response studies. He found that hitting was predicted by neutral or positive physical or emotional experiences whereas missing was associated with anxiety and unhappy adjustment to the situation (Carpenter. He analyzed transcripts of over 600 ganzfeld sessions looking at participants� experiences in these sessions.. Mood Carpenter (1991) developed a succession of mood scales. Earlier researchers also found that performance on projective tests of mood were associated with ESP performance (Humphrey 1946a. not literal) replication by Wiseman and Smith (2002) was successful and confirmed the sheep-goat effect as a cognitive rather than motivational bias. annoyed.b). Replication of Lovitts�s most elegant study is called for. and agreeable or outgoing. These findings are consistent with earlier research suggesting that a psi-conducive state is characterized by relaxation and a belief that success in the ESP task is possible. however.e. 2005b). but Carpenter�s view that these features might usefully be regarded as (relatively transient) mood factors is noteworthy. and small variance is related to moods depicted as drifting. each one more refined than its predecessors in its prediction of the total score and variance of restricted-choice ESP performance. and carefree moods.� the usual scoring pattern was reversed. and task-involved. sheep tended to perform below chance and goats showed psi hitting. This research program indicates that ESP hitting is associated with moods in which the subject feels strong-willed or assertive.

pp. Perhaps then. extraverts typically yield higher ESP scores than introverts (Honorton et al. 1978a. 2003). Palmer. A number of studies employing this personality measure have found a positive relationship between extraversion and ESP performance. 1995) was successful in replicating the relationship. A series of studies have found a relatively weak relationship between ESP scores and the strength of general defense mechanisms as indexed by the Defense Mechanism Test (DMT): whereas highly defensive subjects tend to score at or below chance expectation in an ESP test. that is. Schneider and B�ckstr�m (2002) in terms of its apparent dependence on one specific researcher�s scoring of the DMT. The replicability of this relationship has been queried recently by Haraldsson. 132�133. Extraversion is a personality type in which the individual�s interests are directed outward to the world and other people rather than inwards to thoughts and feelings (introversion). 1994b).. possibly because in this situation neurotic individuals can lose themselves in the crowd and thereby their anxiety is not evoked to the same degree as in the one-to-one setting of an individual assessment of ESP. Watt. While research on the personality correlates of ESP performance is moderately encouraging by its level of consistency and replicability there is some question over its generalization to ESP in everyday situations. 1998. Houtkooper. 1995. Parra & Villanueva. people with low defensiveness show psi hitting (Haraldsson & Houtkooper. neurotic subjects tend to score at chance or below MCE whereas stable and well-adjusted people yield above-chance ESP scores (Palmer.correlates of ESP. This at least is the dominant trend in studies in which the ESP test is conducted with subjects on an individual basis. that is. 1978a. Neurotic people display either high levels of anxiety or marked reliance upon defense mechanisms directed against anxiety. and should this be so. When ESP tests are administered to a group of people at one time the relationship with neuroticism does not always emerge. 1998. ESP can occur if the individual is comfortable or relaxed in the given situation. to be folk who readily adapt to novel social situations like a psychology experiment. Palmer & Carpenter. Haraldsson & Johnson. Related to neuroticism is defensiveness. pp. 1979. that is. The two principal variables investigated in this regard are neuroticism and extraversion. virtually anybody could experience ESP at some . 130�132). On the evidence of a substantial number of studies it seems that ESP performance correlates negatively with neuroticism. 1992. although an independent study using a different index of defensiveness (Watt & Morris. The general trend in the research is for the best ESP scorers to have superior social adjustment.

the same researchers found a differential effect with psi hitting associated with stronger alpha and beta (14 to 30 Hz) activity. In these investigations the distribution of demands upon processing capacity seems to be critical (Irwin. 128�137). There are some experimental data to support this view but one study indicates that �left hemisphere� processes also can be a vehicle for psi (Maher & Schmeidler.time or another. pp. 1987. pp. Palmer & Neppe. More recently. Alpha waves usually are associated with a relaxed. 1985). Ross & Joshi. Haight. these investigators observed an association between gamma (30 to 70 Hz) activity and the mere presentation of a target symbol (McDonough.g. suggesting a facilitatory effect of low cortical arousal. regardless of their personality. Other personality correlates of spontaneous ESP (e. 2004). proneness to psychosis.� But there is meager evidence of relationships between experimental ESP performance and electroencephalographic (EEG) measures. Persinger & Makarec. 1984. passive state of mind. Martinelli & Tressoldi. 1977). Physiological Variables Several studies have documented a relationship between the report of spontaneous extrasensory experiences and the presence of abnormalities in temporal lobe functions (Neppe. More recently. Persinger. Massacessi. 1983. other explanations of this discrepancy are possible.. Don & Warren. �To date there has not been a single type of paranormal experience that is not understandable in terms of known brain functions. 1994). 1978a. p. This may account for the fact that if experients of spontaneous ESP are surveyed there is no definitive trend for them to exhibit the distinctive personality profile thrown up by the experimental research (e. 523). 1992) are addressed in Chapter 15 in the context of paranormal belief. While their heart rate .g. 2003. student volunteers at the University of Padova in Italy took part in a clairvoyance study (Sartori. A high amount or density of alpha wave (8 to 13 Hz) activity during the ESP test may be a good predictor of performance. 1979a. 123�128). Warren and Don (1989) found an association between hits in an ESP test and increased power in the delta (1 to 3 Hz) and theta (4 to 7 Hz) EEG bands. 2000).. Some studies have examined the role of cerebral hemispheric specialization under the hypothesis that ESP is a �right hemisphere� task. In a subsequent study with a larger sample however. prompting the bald declaration by Persinger (2001. In a single-subject design. Persinger & Valliant. of course. Don & Warren. Evidently the study of the relationship between ESP and EEG needs to take into account distinct stages of information processing. McDonough. and psi missing with delta and theta waves (McDonough. 1979). at least if the individual also reports having been in an altered state of consciousness at the time (Palmer.

g. Cunningham. These performing arts students obtained a significant hit-rate of 50 percent (double the chance expectation). Participants� conscious target guesses were at chance level. McAlpine & Taylor. We will return to this issue in Chapters 5 and 6. This is seemingly at odds with the trend for a disproportionately high incidence of spontaneous ESP experiences among people with a poor educational background.. for example.was monitored. 245). the students were asked to guess which of four serially-presented pictures a computer had randomly chosen as the target. 1978a.g.g. but no clear evidence of a relationship between these variables has emerged. If the relationship between ESP and IQ is valid it suggests the relatively low level of reporting by people with higher education is a function not of intelligence but of some other (e. creative people may find restricted-choice tasks very dull (Schmeidler. 1985. but interestingly enough the findings generally indicate a positive relationship between ESP scores and IQ (e. 1958). Palmer.g. social) factor. p. several ganzfeld studies have reported high ESP scoring for participants drawn from �creative� populations (e. Schlitz and Honorton found no correlation between ganzfeld scores and formal measures of creativity. p. at least in some countries (Haraldsson. Nash & Nash. 1992) was conducted with an exceptional population�20 students from the renowned Juilliard School in New York City. Possibly therefore the reported IQ-ESP correlations reflect the operation of some intervening factor such as a capacity to settle into the test situation quickly. 139). At the same time the experimental data are not only weak but typically based on very narrow samples of intelligence (e. 1993). Further. Account may have to be taken of the nature of both the measure of creativity and the ESP task (Palmer. Only a few of these experiments have yielded significant data.. 1997b.. 1991. Cognitive Variables A number of studies have correlated ESP performance with scores on standard intelligence tests.. it is notable that there are some reports of highly significant psi hitting in groups of mentally retarded children. Allied to the popular notion of intelligence is that of creativity. This may suggest that physiological measures could serve as more sensitive indicators of GESP than conscious guessing. Dalton. as there has been a great deal of recent interest in physiological indicators of psi. Heart rate was significantly elevated during presentation of target compared to non-target pictures. 1994a). A few studies have sought to compare ESP scores across groups high and low in creativity. 1979. However. In free-response research. Haraldsson & Houtkooper. A more recent . university students). Morris. Perhaps the best-known of these studies (Schlitz & Honorton.

although the latter trend did not reach significance. 139�140).g. In spontaneous cases of ESP information often is mediated in the form of visual (or other mental) imagery (e. In that experiment subjects with highly verbal interests scored more highly in a verbal ESP task than in a performance ESP task.. However.. Irwin.g. Additionally there is some suggestive evidence of a negative correlation between ESP and short-term memory or ability to keep information in mind just for a minute or so. White. McKenzie & Ali. to explore experimentally the relationship between ESP scores and performance on various measures of mental imagery (for a review see George. with the ability to retrieve information about past events. Freeman. Alvarado & Zingrone.ganzfeld study found ESP scores to correlate in the predicted direction with three out of four creativity measures. Several surveys (e. 1977. 1979) have obtained a positive relationship between the frequency with which people can recall their dreams and the incidence of spontaneous extrasensory experiences. This could be a reporting bias. but not to a statistically significant extent (Roe. Palmer. Gudmundsdottir. 1970). and two of seven experiments have found a . verbalizers on the other hand more often had intuitive (imageless) extrasensory impressions. Nonetheless parapsychological experients reportedly rate artistic creativity as an important purpose of life (Kennedy & Kanthamani. but the results of research using questionnaire measures of mental imagery are rather inconsistent. 1979c) found that people who in a variety of �normal� psychological tasks adopted the style of a visualizer (as opposed to that of a verbalizer) tended more often to have their ESP experiences by way of imagery. this relationship however is evidentially rather more equivocal than that for long-term memory skills (Irwin. The experimental literature on this topic at first sight shows little consistency but some order may be introduced if account is taken of the type of memory skills entailed. Ragnarsson. 1964a). 1978a. 2003b. There are reports of a dependence of ESP scores on spatial abilities (e. Loftsson & Jonsson. pp.g. 98�100. 2001). 1995). Palmer. The cognitive style dimension of imagery noted by Irwin (1979c) to be pertinent to spontaneous extrasensory experience has also been investigated tangentially by Mitchell and Drewes (1982).. 1981. Dream recall is another factor of some interest. 1979b). It is appropriate therefore. Haraldsson. that is. The memory skills of the ESP subject have received some measure of attention for theoretical reasons (see Chapter 8). Thus there are indications that ESP scores correlate positively with long-term memory performance. pp. Indeed one of the first author�s own surveys (Irwin. laboratory ESP tasks are not susceptible to this potential bias. because both dream recall and spontaneous ESP experiences are self-reported. 1979a.

Zingrone & Alvarado. 1994) have found that people who report spontaneous ESP experiences tend to have dissociative tendencies. p. that is. 1982. 1993). 1992. In a dissociative state. at least initially. Ross & Joshi. The latter point will be pursued further in subsequent discussion of the psychological functions of paranormal belief (see Chapter 15). (1995) have identified this trait as a correlate of spontaneous ESP experience. mental processes are divided or lacking integration in a situation where their integration would normally be expected (Spiegel & Carde�a. 1995). This cognitive style also has been implicated in laboratory ESP performance (Palmer. a propensity to take risks in the pursuit of novel experiences. 1995. 1994c) it is not surprising that ESP experients commonly present with a history of abuse during childhood (Ross & Joshi. 1999). 1988). Originally . 1994). they have strong dissociative tendencies. the basis of this correlation is far from clear. A dimension that incorporates elements of a cognitive style and other cognitive skills is that of dissociative tendencies. 1991). 1996). that a person who has just undergone a major trauma could remember what had happened to them. although further confirmatory studies certainly are called for. Another variable related to dissociation is sensation seeking (Kuley & Jacobs. Psychological dimensions closely related to dissociative processes also are reported to characterize ESP experients and superior performers in ESP experiments. 140. Sensation seeking may well be a predictor of both spontaneous ESP experiences and of experimental ESP performance (Curtis & Wilson. and it might also predict experimental ESP scores (Stanford & Stein. p. that is. 1972. It may indicate a psychodynamic factor: people who repress their dreams might not be open to ESP. 1978a. the traumatic memories may be said to have been dissociated from normal consciousness. an empirically identified component of dissociation (Ross. Ellason & Anderson. Pekala & Cummings. Kumar & Marcano. The trend is suggestive but not conclusive. Further. 1997. Some people are habitually inclined to dissociate from certain aspects of their experience. appears to play a major role in ESP. It may reflect imagery processes: people with certain sorts of skills in mental imagery may recall their dreams more often and achieve high ESP scores. It might reasonably be expected. Several recent studies (Pekala. Kumar.positive correlation between dream recall and ESP scores (Honorton. Perhaps more significantly. psychological absorption. One of these dimensions is hypnotic susceptibility: Pekala et al. for example. but many trauma victims are unable to do so. Given that dissociative tendencies can be exacerbated by childhood trauma (Irwin. 1992. Palmer. Palmer. 61). Wright.

There is nevertheless a need for further research into the role of the dissociation domain in experimental ESP performance. 1974. Several of the foregoing cognitive variables have been encompassed by a hypothesized higherorder dimension termed transliminality. Persinger & Valliant. the capacity of the individual to achieve an absorbed state. 1985) might well prove to be essentially indiscriminable as correlates of the occurrence of spontaneous extrasensory experiences. 1983. A recurrent desire to engage in absorbed mentation was found by Irwin (1985b) to be strongly related to the occurrence of spontaneous extrasensory experiences. the readiness with which subconscious material can cross the threshold of consciousness in a given person (e. A third element of the absorption domain is more concerned with motivation or cognitive style. Indeed.g. dissociative tendencies. a given person may have adequate absorption capacity and be in a conducive situation yet rarely enter an absorbed state simply because of a disinclination to do so. The findings of experimental research on this point. absorption is defined formally as �a �total� attention. have been equivocal. 1987. these situations include hypnosis. Persinger. fantasy proneness. Del Prete & Tressoldi. imaginative and ideational resources to a unified representation of the attentional object� (Tellegen & Atkinson.educed as the central cognitive feature of the state of hypnosis. 274). and it is known as the �need for absorption�. motoric. Nadon and Kihlstrom (1987) found the occurrence of spontaneous psi experiences to correlate positively with absorption capacity. As noted earlier in this chapter. Women tend to . Persinger & Makarec. and the presence of abnormal temporal lobe activity (Neppe. may also be related to ESP. however. involving a full commitment of available perceptual. meditation. A second factor of the absorption domain. Thalbourne..g. in press). but the concept certainly holds promise for the conceptual analysis of extrasensory and other parapsychological experiences (see also Myers. Demographic Variables While demographic variables have been incorporated almost as a matter of course in the analyses of data from spontaneous case surveys they have been given rather less attention in the laboratory setting. situations that are conducive to a state of absorption are recognized as common contexts both for spontaneous extrasensory experience and for high performance in laboratory ESP tests.. 2000). At this stage research on the utility of transliminality for predicting laboratory ESP performance is in the formative stage (e. 1984. 1903). the need for absorbing experiences. progressive relaxation. and dreaming. p. that is. Gender differences have been subject to some investigation. sensory deprivation (ganzfeld).

2002.predominate in ESP case collections but that seems to be a consequence of willingness to contribute to these collections rather than of openness to spontaneous experiences as such. An effect of marital status on ESP performance in the laboratory has not been investigated. Members of so-called primitive societies have been given ESP tests and some have performed well (Rose & Rose. although in some circumstances gender may interact with other variables to influence performance (Rao. 155. Haraldsson & Houtkooper. Like gender. Spontaneous ESP experiences are reported more commonly by separated. 1991. Taylor. Zingrone & Alvarado. age may be a factor which moderates the influence of more fundamental variables. 1993. In the preceding sections some factors that affect experimental ESP performance have been . age (or at least. Palmer. divorced or widowed individuals than by married people (Haraldsson & Houtkooper. Little systematic investigation into the pertinence of race and culture has been undertaken. but there are no data with which adequate cross-cultural comparisons may be made. 144�146). in GESP and telepathy experiments it is possible that the gender of the subject and that of the agent have some bearing on the ability of the pair to form some sort of rapport which in turn might influence scoring. 1979. many similar studies have been unsuccessful in demonstrating age-dependent differences in scoring (Palmer. 1983). 1992). 1985. p. pp. Certainly the incidence of acknowledged spontaneous telepathic and clairvoyant experiences varies from one country to another. 76) too regarded ESP as an atavistic phenomenon. 1951). 2003) and indeed. being higher in America than in Europe. 1950). for example (Haraldsson. generation) sometimes is found to be negatively correlated with spontaneous ESP experiences (Levin. 1997). p. In a few experiments age has had an effect on ESP scoring. This has not prevented a few parapsychologists from interpreting the occurrence of ostensibly paranormal experiences in primitive cultures as evidence for the view that ESP is a relic of a form of communication characteristic of a distant epoch of our evolution (see McClenon. Ross & Joshi. 1978a. with children tending to perform better than adolescents and adults. Kanthamani & Norwood. 1978a. In ESP tests there is no clear trend for differential scoring between the sexes (Palmer. pp. that ESP itself may have been a major mechanism of evolution (Hardy. Again. 146�148). On the other hand. This relationship may reflect the role of psychosocial needs rather than that of demographical characteristics as such. but as the available data are from Western nations the full range of cultural differences in this regard is unknown. Freud (1933. For example. 1991).

KEY TERMS AND CONCEPTS Charles Richet J. Notwithstanding these various grounds for caution. Second. 1986. the available data do offer some encouragement to researchers who believe that the concept of ESP is viable. Nevertheless.) is correlated with various psychological variables and that it is actually these correlations that processoriented experiments have revealed. Surely if the results of ESP tests were fortuitous or artifactual there would be rather less consistency across experiments linking ESP performance to psychological variables. First. But the very fact that these arguments can be mounted is sufficient to indicate that the coherence of processoriented data is. the determined skeptic may argue that the operation of artifacts in ESP experiments (unintentional sensory cues. the observed level of consistency may be indicative that the extra-chance performance in ESP tests is a real phenomenon. This line of argument certainly should not be accepted without subjecting the specific claims to further empirical scrutiny. ESP scores may be related to extraversion because extraverts are more inclined than introverts to seek means of cheating. A number of relationships have been replicated by independent researchers in disparate contexts. Rhine Duke University Zener cards/ESP cards open/closed decks restricted-choice tests free-response tests target selected/unselected subjects call run hits misses critical ratio .. While there is some merit in this view it should not be given undue weight. and some observed relationships are compatible with those on allied matters. and certainly they provide foundations for theory building. To the extent that there are consistencies in the data on the nature of ESP it might be argued that there is further support for the authenticity of ESP (Edge et al. at best. subject fraud. but for reasons outlined earlier this does not demonstrate the authenticity of ESP as opposed to alternative explanations of the anomaly. it already should be clear that on some points there is a reasonable degree of consistency and coherence in the process-oriented experimental data. 185). For example. merely supportive of the ESP hypothesis. B. etc. At this point no attempt will be made to draw these findings together. p. Their relevance to our conception of psi will be considered after we have looked at other aspects of psi. if indeed that is possible.discussed.

In what respects was it significant? 2. Discuss the proposition. What criticisms were leveled at the Duke University research into ESP.mean chance expectation (MCE) Extra-Sensory Perception target pool mentation judging period decoy targets replication meta-analysis the definitive experiment the cumulative record experimenter effects the parapsychological experimenter effect nonintentional psi psi hitting psi missing consistent missing position effects differential effect displacement ESP focusing response bias variance effects clustering multiple-aspect targets psi-conducive states hypnosis sensory/perceptual deprivation ganzfeld meditation progressive relaxation hypnagogic states dreams drug intoxication the sheep-goat effect Defense Mechanism Test graphic expansiveness neuroticism extraversion alpha activity hemispheric specialization intelligence/scholastic ability memory skills imagery skills visualizer/verbalizer cognitive style dissociative tendencies absorption demographic factors STUDY QUESTIONS 1.� 6. Rhine�s principal contributions to parapsychology as a scientific discipline? 3. �ESP is defined ultimately as a statistical anomaly. B. The work of Charles Richet generally is not as widely acknowledged as it deserves to be. What are the elements of an adequate experimental test of the ESP hypothesis? 5. and how were these . Why did J. Rhine devise the ESP cards? 4. B. What were J.

The physical characteristics of targets seem to have scant impact upon ESP scores. On what grounds could ESP be shown to be authentic? Has it been authenticated? If so. Is the evidence for the authenticity of ESP strengthened by the coherence of the functional relationships identified in process-oriented ESP research? . Do such studies really have to be as tightly controlled as proof-oriented experiments? 10. and why is it of major concern? 9. To what extent does this accord with your own impression of people who report spontaneous extrasensory experiences? 18. how would you best seek to elicit high scores from subjects in a controlled ESP experiment? 14. What is the parapsychological experimenter effect in parapsychology. why not? 8.g. Akers (1984) notes a range of potential flaws in recent process-oriented ESP experiments. In light of the findings of process-oriented research.taken into account in subsequent research? 7. what sorts of people do you imagine �sheep� to be? What do you think �goats� are like? How might these differences between sheep and goats actually produce differential performance on ESP tests? 17. 15. Construct a psychological profile of people who perform well in ESP tests. 12. Consider the ethical aspects of this procedure. Drawing on your own experience. Does the notion of a below-chance score in an ESP test make sense? Do the correlates of psi missing help in any way to bring credibility to the notion? 11. how? If not. set up a simple ganzfeld situation in your own home and experience its (nonparapsychological) effects for about an hour. Can we therefore discount the idea that ESP is mediated by some unknown form of physical (e.. Under what circumstances have you encountered a spontaneous extrasensory experience? Do these circumstances lend support to the experimental research on psi-conducive states? 16. electromagnetic) radiation? 13. As an exercise. Some ESP experiments have incorporated erotic pictures in the target material without informing the participants.