Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Anomalous Cognition, Dissociation, and Motor Automatisms

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Anomalous Cognition, Dissociation, and Motor Automatisms

Article excerpt




The general hypothesis tested in the experiment is that psi is facilitated by dissociated states of consciousness. Underlying this hypothesis is the more basic premise that the relative absence of overt manifestations of psi comes not from the lack of psi information in the unconscious mind, but rather by awareness of this information being blocked by psychological defense mechanisms. One vehicle by which these defense mechanisms might be circumvented is a dissociated state of consciousness, as exemplified by Ernest Hilgard's (1977) "hidden observer," which under hypnosis can recall mentation that is inaccessible to normal waking consciousness.

The application of the concept of dissociation to psychic phenomena can be traced back to F. W. H. Myers (1903). Even though he did not use the term much himself, dissociation is clearly what he had in mind when he introduced the notion of the secondary self, which can function independently of the primary personality or supraliminal consciousness. The secondary self often manifests through what Myers called sensory or motor "automatisms." Myers included under motor automatisms automatic writing, automatic speaking, automatic drawing, and use of the pendulum. 1 consider motor automatisms to represent a purer form of dissociation than sensory automatisms, because motor automatisms in their unadulterated form do not involve any conscious cognition.

Seeking an anomalous cognition (AC) test related to motor automatisms that participants (Ps) could relate to easily, I decided to employ the Ouija board concept (Palmer, 2011). However, because use of the Ouija board for conjuring spirits has been shown to have adverse psychological effects in some cases (e.g., Palmer, 2001), 1 decided to make the association to the Ouija board somewhat more distant. As part of this effort, I substituted an alphabet board consisting of the 26 letters arrayed on the four outer sides of the board. The target words were one-syllable homographs. Ps were instructed to repeatedly move a pointer or planchette randomly around the board until they felt the impulse to stop on a particular letter, at which time they recorded the letter on a notepad. In the meantime, a sender in another room on a different floor of the building was asked to transmit the target.

Prior to the session, participants filled out a trait measure of dissociation, consisting of Persinger's Complex Partial Epileptic Signs scale (Persinger& Makarec, 1993), with scores on the Tellegen Absorption Scale (Tellegen, 1978) partialled out. At the end of the session, Ps were shown the five words in the target set and asked to rate each word on a 0-20 scale based on its correspondence to letters they had gotten from the board, as well as mental imagery they had spontaneously experienced at any point during the session. They also completed a rating scale on their experiences during the session, the key item of which was what percentage of the movements of their hand they felt had been guided by an outside force (OF), a state measure of dissociation. To allow for assessment of a linear trend, the sample was divided into three roughly equal groups: none of the time, 1-40% of the time, and 40-100% of the time. The 11 of 40 Ps who reported that their hand was so guided 1-40% of the time demonstrated a strong AC effect, whereas Ps in the other groups averaged close to chance. I speculated that the subjective experiences of dissociation in the 1-40% group tended to differ qualitatively from those in the 41-100% group, but I did not interview the Ps about their experiences. The trait dissociation measure correlated significantly positive with the OF question but not with the AC scores.

The present experiment was an extension of Palmer (2011) with the following specific objectives: (a) to attempt to replicate the OF/AC correlation and to understand it better by interviewing those Ps who answer the OF question positively about the precise nature of their experience of the outside force; (b) to assess a possible relationship between trait dissociation and AC using a more direct measure of dissociation; (c) to explore the effects of additional procedures to facilitate state dissociation during the task; and (d) to explore possible differences in scoring as a function of whether Ps use the right or left hand for their AC responses. …

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