Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Interpersonal Psi: Exploring the Role of the Sender in Ganzfeld GESP Tasks

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Interpersonal Psi: Exploring the Role of the Sender in Ganzfeld GESP Tasks

Article excerpt

According to Morris, Dalton, Delanoy, and Watt (1995, p. 246), "one of the most important theoretical issues in parapsychology concerns the role of the sender in GESP procedures." Indeed, many of the most impressive spontaneous cases do seem to involve an active "agent" (cf. Beloff, 1993), whereas in the laboratory Palmer (1978, p. 97) noted that "whatever the status of 'pure telepathy,' the widespread use of GESP procedures in psi experiments is ample evidence that many experimenters believe the presence of an agent may improve the chances of a successful outcome." One means of assessing this possibility is to compare participants' performance under GESP conditions (where there is a sender) with that under clairvoyance conditions (where there is not). Unfortunately, the interpretation of the outcomes of some of these studies is confounded by the fact that participants were aware that there would be no sender for some trials and this may clearly affect their expectancy or motivation--or even the perceived credibility of the phenomenon under investigation--in ways that could lead to what we term a psychological sender effect (cf. Irwin, 1999). Palmer (1978) has similarly noted that "the percipient might be more relaxed, more confident, or more highly motivated if he thinks someone is sending to him, even if no agent actually exists" (p. 97). Among the interpretations of the putative sender/no sender difference offered by Morris et al. (1995) is one that argues that to many participants, it seems somehow more plausible that someone must first observe the target and send them a signal before they can gain any information about the target, and that having a sender may simply increase the feeling of teamwork or diffuse responsibility for failures (or perhaps more tellingly, for successes, reminiscent of the work of Batcheldor, 1966). This is perhaps illustrated in extremis by Langdon-Davies (1956), who described a basic clairvoyance study in which he was scoring at chance until he set up an imaginary agent (in fact, it was the well-known medium Eileen Garrett, whom he had never actually met) so that he had someone to share success or failure with. His next series of 200 runs exhibited significant hitting.

A number of forced-choice experiments have kept the participants blind to the fact that some trials were clairvoyant and others permitted GESP, and these constitute a better test of the influence of the sender. Palmer (1978) reviewed much of the early work of this type and reported that researchers who tested gifted individuals did tend to find the predicted difference in favour of telepathy (e.g., Birge & Rhine, 1942), whereas those engaged in group testing did not (e.g., Beloff, 1969, West, 1950). The former finding has been replicated more recently; for example, the gifted participant Lalsingh Harribance was misinformed that all trials were GESP when in fact alternate trials were clairvoyant. He scored significantly above chance on the former task but close to chance on the latter (Klein, 1972). (It should be noted, however, that Harribance was able to score above chance on clairvoyance tasks at other times when accurately briefed.) Bender (1970) similarly reported an abrupt drop in performance following an unannounced switch from GESP to clairvoyance. Schmeidler (1961) found suggestive support for better performance on GESP trials compared with clairvoyance trials, and Kreitler and Kreitler (1972) found that percipients who had to identify letters that were projected subliminally tended to perform better on trials for which an agent was attempting to transmit the correct letter. However, Lantz, Luke, and May (1994) described a nonganzfeld free-response ESP experiment with five "experienced receivers" (who had all produced significant effects in previous research) in which performance was better in the no-sender condition than with an agent, although the difference was not significant.

Senders and the Ganzfeld

In terms of sender effects within the ganzfeld paradigm, it is worth noting Honorton's (1995) meta-analysis of differences in sender and no-sender conditions. …

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