Examining the Role of Neutral versus Personal Experimenter-Participant Interactions: An Eda-Dmils Experiment

Article excerpt

HARALD WALACH [1]

ABSTRACT: The aim of this exploratory study was first, to confirm the results found in EDA-DMILS research and, second, to examine the role of experimenter-participant interaction, as this is viewed to play a crucial role in parapsychological experiments. In a total of forty sessions, a pair of participants was each randomly assigned to either a personal or a neutral condition. In the personal condition, the experimenter tried to create a psi-conducive atmosphere. In the neutral condition, participants were given a computerized presentation in order to keep the interaction with the experimenter to a minimum. Our results yielded a nonsignificant effect (Wilcoxon statistic) of ES = .17. Furthermore, the quality of the experimenter-participation interaction was of minor importance for the agent's success in calming or activating the receiver. Interestingly, the effect size obtained from the Wilcoxon statistic for the neutral condition was three times larger than that for the personal condition (ES = .25 vs ES = . 08). The results are discussed with regard to methodological and psychophysiological considerations. First, since we can assume to have properly and successfully implemented the two conditions (by analyzing post-session questionnaires) our findings are hard to reconcile with what is reported about the importance of a psi-conducive atmosphere. Second, it is suggested that for future DMUS experiments the EDA equipment, parametrization, and data-processing be adjusted to psychophysiological standards. For example, in EDA-DMILS research, tonic components of the EDA are of interest (i.e., no stimuli are presented). Therefore, it is necessary to separate the electrodermal level from spontaneously occurring electrodermal fluctuations. In so doing, we will be able to examine any ostensible EDA-DMIIS effect more thoroughly.

There exists an encouraging body of evidence regarding the ability of humans to interact mentally under circumstances that preclude all conventional means of information conveyance (for a summary, see Braud & Schlitz, 1991; Schlitz & Braud, 1997). Specifically, distant intentionality efforts of a physically isolated person (agent) have shown to co-vary with responses of the autonomic nervous system of another person (receiver [2]) - In a typical protocol, an agent tries to influence the receiver according to a randomly assigned sequence of activate and calm periods to which the receiver is kept blind. Together with several peripheral measures (e.g., heart rate or blood volume), electrodermal activity (EDA) has been the most favored one due to its lability and sensitivity (cf. Braud & Schlitz, 1991). Moreover, outcomes from distant intentionality studies (if not of any parapsychological experiment at all) have been conceived as being subject to special characteristics of the experimental setting that contributes to what is called a psi-conducive atmosphere (e.g., Delanoy, 1997; Targ, Braud, Stanford, Schlitz, & Honorton, 1991). Specifically, it has been suggested that a personal, supportive, warm, empathetic, and open interaction between experimenter and participants is more productive to elicit a DMILS or Remote Staring effect than a neutral and objective one.

Studies reporting significant results for samples with different experimenters (Wiseman & Schlitz, 1997, 1999) usually refer to experimenter effects as possible cause after having ruled out alternative (post hoc) explanations. Such experimenter effects are, to some extent, related to the experimenter's attitude towards psi. However, to date there is no DMILS/Remote Staring study which systematically manipulated, let alone assessed, the demeanor of the experimenters involved. Thus, these differences are rather observational than experimental in nature and call for more systematic follow-up studies.

Nonetheless, in EDA-DMILS studies the experimental setting is deemed crucial, and experimenters are thought of having to possess special skills when interacting with participants. …

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