A Study of Telepathy by Classical Conditioning
Vassy, Zoltan, The Journal of Parapsychology
Physiological methods have become popular recently in psi research. In particular, measurement of skin conductance was applied successfully for the detection of presentiment, that is, precognitive response to its eliciting stimulus (Bierman & Radin, 1997; for a summary of the early work see Radin, 1997). The technology of automated stimu lus presentation as well as conductance measurement and recording is now mature enough for a sound and generally acceptable methodology.
In the 1960s I conducted an experiment for the detection of a simple telepathic message between a sender and a receiver, in which a conditioned galvanic skin response was measured. An extended abstract of that experiment appeared in The Journal of Parapsychology about a decade later (Vassy, 1978). Because recording equipment was lacking, all data were obtained by human observation, which was cumbersome and prone to errors. So although the results were significantly positive, the method did not seem to be appropriate at that time. Nowadays, however, with the newly established methodology of skin conductance measurement, the weaknesses of that procedure hopefully can be eliminated. The aim of the experiment reported here was to investigate the adequacy of the method both for detecting telepathy and for asking some specific questions about its nature.
GENERAL EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN
In this paper a series of three experiments will be reported; however, they all share many common elements. In this section those aspects will be highlighted.
Basic Idea and Notation
We began by assuming that telepathy involves an as yet unidentified physiological process in the brain of the receiver. This assumption is plausible because the reception of the telepathic information is connected to a behavioral output, which obviously involves a physiological process. In these experiments, that process was used for detecting the reception of the telepathic message. We assumed further that the receiver's physiological process can be used as a conditioned stimulus in the paradigm of classical conditioning. This paradigm allows for a conditioned response upon the reception of telepathic information. In classical experiments, one must remove an unconditioned stimulus from time to time in order to recognize the conditioned response. In the experiments described in this paper, we were able to time shift the conditioning stimulus to always occur before an unconditioned stimulus, so the above requirement was not necessary here. The dependent variable throughout these studies was skin conductance.
We used a mild electric shock that was administered to two of the receivers as an unconditioned stimulus. As is well known in experimental psychology (Woodworth & Schlosberg, 1961), electric shocks cause a sudden rise in skin conductance. The skin conductance response (i.e., unconditioned response) to electric shock stimuli does not habituate, even after many trials. This is contrary to the responses to gentler emotional photographic stimuli, which have been used in "presentiment" studies. Thus, electric shocks seemed a more likely candidate for unconditioned stimuli.
Expanding upon the idea above, the conditioned stimulus was the reception of a putative telepathic message from the sender. That is, during an experimental session, a trigger signal was presented to a sender at random times. In turn, the sender was instructed to forward the warning telepathically to the receiver. After a constant delay time, a shock was presented to the receiver.
Clearly, we could detect the unconditioned skin conductance response (i.e., to the shock). We hoped that we would also detect the conditioned response in advance of the unconditioned shock stimulus. The time interval between the conditioned and the unconditioned stimulus was set to be longer than the latency time of the skin response, so the conditioned response could appear before the unconditioned stimulus. This way it was expected to detect all conditioned responses without leaving out any unconditioned stimuli.
Figure 1 illustrates the timing with actual skin conductance data, which was selected for illustrative purposes only.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
The dotted line at -4.0 s schematically represents the time of the reception of the "telepathic" conditioned stimulus; the dashed line at about -2.75 s represents the response to it; the solid line at 0 s is the unconditioned stimulus onset time; and the large peak beginning at about +1.5 s is the unconditioned response. Notice that there is approximately a 1.5-s latency after the shock before the response is registered. The skin conductance peak at about -1.75 s illustrates what we expect will be the conditioned response.
We assumed that since no conscious decision is needed on the part of the receiver, this paradigm may be less sensitive to psychological trait and state variables than both the restricted-choice and free-response procedures that are in common use in research parapsychology today. If this were true, then perhaps we could approach a replicable experiment more easily.
The overall objective of the experiments was to study the effectiveness of this experimental paradigm, and, if the paradigm proved to be effective, to search for answers to some simple questions regarding the nature of telepathy.
In the first experiment, sessions of approximately 10 trials each lasted about 15 to 20 min. This time length seemed optimal (Vassy, 1978) to avoid inducing either boredom or nervousness in the participants. It was planned to apply the method to 50 sessions, with various sender-receiver pairs, and determine if the occurrence of conditioned responses could be elicited. The analysis was supplemented by an investigation of reaction times. In the second experiment, the warning stimulus to the sender was omitted in approximately half of the trials, in which the receiver still could respond precognitively to the shocks to be delivered to his or her fingers. By the comparison of the number of responses in those precognitive trials with the number of responses in the telepathic trials (when the sender was warned), it was possible to ask whether any telepathic message indeed played a part in the elicitation of the responses. The third experiment was an attempted replication of the first experiment, with the same procedure.
INFRASTRUCTURE OF THE EXPERIMENTS
All experiments shared a common infrastructure.
The experiments took place in the offices of AION Foundation, created in 1991 for scientific psi research. For the first experiment, the sender and the receiver were sitting in two separate rooms, with a third room and two closed doors between them. The distance between the sender and the receiver was 10 m. The doors were made of wood, without glass or holes in them (except keyholes, which were covered). The floor plan is shown in Figure 2. When the experimenter was also the sender, there was no third person present; otherwise, the experimenter was sitting between the rooms during the run.
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
The electric shocks were administered by a Hungarian-made device, "PC Stimulator," designed originally for medical muscle rehabilitation. It could be controlled by computer and had an option for manually setting the intensity of the shocks at any time. Its control program was written in Visual BASIC. This program also provided the trigger signal to the sender: the word "Send" on the screen. Both the duration of the shocks and the delay between the trigger signal and the following shock could be set before the start of the experimental runs, and could not be changed during the runs.
The skin conductance of the receiver was measured with two different devices, one in the first 25 runs of Experiment 1, and the other in all further runs. The first device, called "Relax96," was obtained from the same company that made the PC Stimulator and was originally a biofeedback relaxation aid. Its sampling rate was 2.67 samples per s, and it measured skin conductance in relative units from an adjustable baseline. From the 25th run onward, a British-made professional device was used, SC5 SA by Contact Precision Instruments, which could determine the skin conductance in absolute units at a rate of 40 samples per s. Details of that instrument can be found at http://www.psylab.com. Silver/silver chloride electrodes of 10-mm diameter were used, with electrode collars to prevent skin/metal contact. Instead, a Med …
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Publication information: Article title: A Study of Telepathy by Classical Conditioning. Contributors: Vassy, Zoltan - Author. Journal title: The Journal of Parapsychology. Volume: 68. Issue: 2 Publication date: Fall 2004. Page number: 323+. © 1998 Parapsychology Press. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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