Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Testing for Telepathy Using an Immersive Virtual Environment

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Testing for Telepathy Using an Immersive Virtual Environment

Article excerpt

The ganzfeld has become the most favoured and successful experimental method for the assessment of general ESP performance, such as telepathy, in modern parapsychology (Bem, 1993; Milton, 1999). One reason that it is favoured concerns the development of computers as a central part of its experimental method, enabling the automation of the randomisation and selection of object sets and targets, minimising experimenter errors in recording participants' responses, and creating an electronic record that contributes to safeguards against fraud. Such work has also been argued to provide the most convincing evidence for psi. However, the current climate in parapsychology is one of an interim phase of self-assessment and evaluation regarding the future of the ganzfeld. This is in the wake of the publication by Milton and Wiseman (1997, 1999) of a meta-analysis of the results of ganzfeld experiments that challenge those of several previous meta-analyses undertaken on ganzfeld studies which yielded significant outcomes (Bem & Honorton, 1994; Honorton, 1985; Hyman, 1985; Radin, 1997), to argue that there is not a replicable psi ganzfeld effect (Milton & Wiseman, 2002). However, Bem, Palmer, and Broughton (2001) provide an analysis of those studies that adhere to a "standard" ganzfeld procedure and argue that there is a replicable effect which is diluted by the inclusion of studies which deviate from this procedure in significant ways.

The features of studies employing the ganzfeld technique have varied, with different "hit" rates that have led to discussion of what features of ganzfeld studies may be more or less conducive to higher hit rates (e.g., Bem et al., 2001). Target materials as employed in the ganzfeld have often been purely visual; most researchers have employed pictures or video clips, whereas some researchers have employed objects and geographical locations as targets (Milton, 1991). It has been suggested that psi-conducive targets are more dynamic and multi-sensory and may have a psychological impact on the receiver (Delanoy, 1989). Target pools have been comprised of both dynamic and static stimuli. Honorton et al. (1990) described dynamic targets as comprising films, documentaries, and cartoons, whereas static targets are comprised of art work, photographs, and magazine advertisements.

Attempts to address the nature of a good target have suggested a preference for dynamic target clips compared to static ones (Honorton et al., 1990) and for more complex (colourful) target clips over simple (black-and-white) targets (Watt, 1996). It is of interest that real events and locations were successfully employed as targets in the "remote viewing" experiments conducted by Targ and Puthoff and other researchers in the 1970s (cf. Tart, Puthoff, & Targ, 2000). The dream ESP series at Maimonides (e.g., Ullman, Krippner, & Vaughan, 1973) were also very successful in terms of ESP outcomes (see Sherwood & Roe, 2003, for a review of dream ESP studies conducted since that time). It is of note that here the agent often attempted to act out aspects of the pictorial target material. Such literature suggests a need to develop and employ more realistic target material in future assessments of ESP in the laboratory.

A second issue in such telepathy research is the dislocation of sender and receiver (which, as will be elaborated, until relatively recently was impossible to overcome). In extant research, and for sensible methodological reasons, the sender and receiver are separated by physical space, be they separate rooms or buildings in a research institution or in their own homes several miles apart. The sender is required to try to transmit some information (a name, a picture, an emotion, etc.) and the receiver is required to identify the target from a pool of possible targets.

Much experimental research in psychology involves methodological choices about experimental control and ecological validity. …

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