People's extrasensory perception


In an attempt to assess whether there was a significant difference between people's extrasensory perception (ESP) belief and the no of repetitions they make on a random generation task, Brugger's study (1990) was replicated. 101 participants were asked to do a random generation task involving imagining a dice to be thrown 66 times, the experimenter then recorded the 66 numbers and analysed how many repetitions had been made throughout. Then the participants were asked what their ESP belief was on a scale of 1-6 (1 being strongly agree, 6 being strongly disagree).The aim of the experiment was to establish whether these people are sheep or goats according to the number of repetitions and then whether this finding reflects their ESP belief. It was expected that sheep would make less repetitions than goats. The data obtained from the no of repetitions made by both sheep and goats were tested by carrying out a t-test. The result from the t-test indicated that because the value of 0.45 was not greater or equal to the critical value 1.671, this showed that there was no significant difference between people's ESP belief and the number of repetitions they made on a random generation task. Therefore the result offered no support for Brugger's study. On the other hand, previous research has indicated that although it is not significant, it often still leads in the right direction, for example, goats are more likely to obtain more repetitions than sheep. If the results were valid, then it could be argued that Brugger's research (1990) was valid also, as this was a replication of his study. Therefore there must still be room for further research.


People aren't very random however it is essentially impossible to prove randomness, instead one has to disprove non-randomness (see Chaitin, 1975).

ESP stuff

In order to gain a full understanding of the experiment, a correct interpretation of ESP belief is essential. This is very problematic as the precise definition of "paranormal usually refers to alleged phenomena which cannot be accounted for in terms of current scientific theories. Extrasensory perception is divided into telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition which are the proper subject matter. In practice the term "paranormal is loosely used for a wide variety of alleged phenomena including alternative medicine, UFOs, ghosts, astrology and so on. For example, a poll of "belief in the paranormal phenomena based upon 1236 adult Americans, (Gallup and Newport 1991), reported high levels of belief which presented a problem for those sceptical of such claims. If the scientific evidence is inconclusive, why should so many people believe passionately in these various phenomena? The obvious answer was indeed that it was based on personal experiences rather than empirical evidence. (Blackmore, 1984) found personal experiences of the paranormal to be the single most common reason for belief. But such phenomena which are currently considered to be paranormal could not in principle occur because the fact is there is no convincing empirical evidence to support such claims. This raises the possibility that personal experiences may be the result of cognitive biases within our information processing systems; therefore leading to the misinterpretation of certain situations.

Following on from this, there are people who may therefore misinterpret situations as paranormal when in fact they can be figured out using basic probability. However because people find it so difficult to be random, their ability to predict the scale of probability for given situations also proves difficult and therefore they may be subjected to using another definition such as the paranormal, merely because of their cognitive bias. Psychologists as a group are very critical of parapsychological claims (Padgett et al 1980) suggested that this may in part be due to the fact that the psychologists know about factors influencing belief formation.

The classic sheep-goat effect was first investigated by Schmeidler and McConnell (1958) and then reviewed by Palmer (1971, 1978). The idea that certain kinds of normal situation are open to misinterpretation as being paranormal raises the possibility that some individuals are more prone to such biases than others. This could explain why a range of beliefs exist in the population at large, from complete and absolute reflection of even the possibility of PSI to complete and absolute acceptance of all things paranormal. Belief in the paranormal is not an undimensional entity and it is likely that different biases would underlie different types of belief. Belief in ESP could arise due to a failure to appreciate the probability of coincidences arising purely by chance and thus might be associated with biases in probabilistic reasoning. Such a bias would be unlikely to be associated with say, belief in ghosts.

Stuff about the research

The means used to assess belief is an important aspect of studies comparing believers and disbelievers. Two general approaches have been adopted by investigators in this field. Firstly, to employ a standard questionnaire, such as those devised by Jones et al (1977) or Tobacyk, 1991; Tobacyk and Milford, 1983). The advantages of this approach are that the scales have been properly validated and normative data are available for comparison purposes. However the disadvantage is that the scales are not specifically directed at the paranormal belief of interest. Although it is possible to calculate subscale scores, the scales are often used to provide an overall measure of belief in things paranormal in the wildest sense.

Another approach is to ask subjects to indicate their degree of belief in the paranormal phenomenon using a simple Likert-type scale. This allows one to be very specific about the belief in question however may reduce the ability to compare the data across studies.

Stuff about perception of success

  • Langer (1975)
  • Ayeroff and Abelson (1976)
  • Benassi et al (1979)

All found high levels of perceived success in ESP tasks regardless of actual performance.

Factors such as thinking there is skill involved also increased the perception that the subjects were performing at higher than chance levels, when in fact they were not.

They would rate their success higher if they chose their own raffle ticket rather than having one allocated at random, even though the objective probabilities are identical.

This shows that even if the probability is the same for everyone, such as everyone will have the same probability that it will either rain/not rain tomorrow, 50/50, however there will always be some people amongst them that will believe it wont/will rain because of some other reason, they think there is skill involved in predicting the outcome of the rain, but in fact both probabilities are identical and it either will/wont rain, simple as.

Blackmore and Troscianko (1985)- It is perhaps not surprising that believers are more likely to succumb to the illusion of control in this context, given that they are more likely to perceive the situation as involving skill than a disbeliever.

They used a stimulated coin-tossing task in which subjects were instructed to try to make a computer generated coin fall as either heads or tails, with control exerted via a push button.

Real control was only possible on 1 of 2 experimental runs.

Results showed as predicted that sheep felt that they had exerted more control than goats

Yet paradoxically estimated that they had scored fewer hits.

This paradox was resolved by asking subjects to estimate how well they would do with their eyes closed.-i.e. chance performance

This revealed that sheep drastically underestimated the level of chance performance

Whereas goats did not.

Thus, to the sheep, their own performance appeared much better than would be expected by chance, even though it was not.

The results so far-consistent with both the idea that

Believers in ESP are more prone to the illusion of control than disbelievers


That they are generally less cautious in assessing their own performance.

  • Repetitions stuff
  • Background
  • Your study
  • Your rationale
  • Hypothesis

Research prediction-include the iv and dv variables of quality and interest

-two specific predictions

alternative and null

The hypothesis

The participants with a high ESP belief (Sheep) will be expected to have fewer repetitions on a subjective random generation task than those with a low ESP belief (Goats).

There will be no difference between participants with high/low ESP belief and the no of repetitions on a subjective random generation task.

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