Friday Fun Paper: We Are Naughty Psychics

So it’s been awhile since I’ve blogged here, but much has happened, which I hope to write about on the blog in the near future.  For now, something a little fun.  In my travels on the internet as a medical librarian, I often stumble upon odd, amusing, funny, or surprising papers.  As it turns out, many researchers are getting money to do some…unusual things.  So I have decided that each Friday I will share with you, the good people of the internet, a paper that has caught my attention.

This week’s article, titled “Feeling the Future: Experimental evidence for anomalous retroactive influences on cognition and affect” comes to us from the field of psychology and garnered a fair bit of press attention because it apparently scientifically validated the existence of psychic abilities.  It comes from the lab of esteemed Professor Emeritus Daryl Bem of Cornell and was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which is a respected psychology journal.  So this is not off the wall – it’s mainstream science.

Basically, the researchers set out to prove whether people could predict the future by having them predict which of two doors on the computer screen would have an image behind it.  Just to make things more interesting, I guess, they did the test with regular images and then repeated it with “erotic” images drawn from a database of images scaled on a range of 0 to 9 in their arousal effect on both men and women.  The researchers found that with non-erotic images, the subjects (all college students) were able to correctly predict where the picture would be no more often than one could guess by chance (about 49%), whereas the success rate improved to 53% when the images were erotic.  Even though 53% doesn’t sound that much bigger than 50%, this is in fact considered statistically significant.  However, other researchers have been unable to replicate these results, so take that as you will.

My favorite part of this article is this quote:

“In our first…experiment, women showed [psychic] effects to highly arousing stimuli but men did not. Because this appeared to have arisen from men’s lower arousal to such stimuli, we introduced different erotic and negative pictures for men and women in subsequent studies, using stronger and more explicit images from Internet sites for the men.”

To put that in plain language: “the official sexy images we were using weren’t hot enough for the college dudes, so we just downloaded some internet porn and used that instead.”  And based on my experience working with researchers, that probably means that the principal investigator (PI, or the head of the study), probably had an awkward conversation with some poor post-doc or graduate student asking him/her to please go online and find some sexier porno so they could get these dudes to show some psychic ability.  And I imagine that this young, budding researcher went online and looked for adequately graphic images for several hours, or several days, all the while thinking to themselves, “this is why I’m getting/got a PhD?”

So to summarize, the researchers found that people have psychic abilities, but primarily when it comes to figuring out where the porn is.  Good to know.  🙂

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