memory

Believers and Skeptics: a large-scale test

I was recently browsing Google Scholar and came across an interesting publication. Titled Paranormal psychic believers and skeptics: a large-scale test of the cognitive differences hypothesis, the article was written by Stephen J. Gray and David A. Gallo, both affiliated with Department of Psychology, University of Chicago.
The essence of the article is this (taken from the abstract):

Why do some people believe, while others are skeptical? According to the cognitive differences hypothesis, individual differences in the way people process information about the world can contribute to the creation of psychic beliefs, such as differences in memory accuracy (e.g., selectively remembering a fortune teller’s correct predictions) or analytical thinking (e.g., relying on intuition rather than scrutinizing evidence). While this hypothesis is prevalent in the literature, few have attempted to empirically test it. Here, we provided the most comprehensive test of the cognitive differences hypothesis to date.

The Brain from a Paranormal PerspectiveI was intrigued, so I pulled up the full article and read more. The primary goal of the study was to conduct a comprehensive test of the memory distortion hypothesis; they achieved this by testing the prediction that there would be individual differences in memory accuracy and distortion between those who believed in paranormal/psychic phenomenon and those who did not. The researchers also looked for potential links between psychic beliefs and measures of analytical thinking and personality characteristics.

The test was done through a combination of laboratory and online tasks and through multiple memory measures. They included both episodic memory and autobiographical memory tasks. Working memory was also tested, as it’s been linked to the belief/disbelief in other studies.

Rather than drone on and on about the testing process, etc, I’ll simply link you to the article (pdf here) and give you their summary of results (emphasis mine):

Our cognitive testing showed that there were no consistent group differences on tasks of episodic memory distortion, autobiographical memory distortion, or working memory capacity, but skeptics consistently outperformed believers on several tasks tapping analytical or logical thinking as well as vocabulary.

These findings demonstrate cognitive similarities and differences between these groups and suggest that differences in analytical thinking and conceptual knowledge might contribute to the development of psychic beliefs. We also found that psychic belief was associated with greater life satisfaction, demonstrating benefits associated with psychic beliefs and highlighting the role of both cognitive and noncognitive factors in understanding these individual differences.

Rather interesting results. I hope to see a continuation of their research; perhaps examining those who score equally on these tasks on a believer/nonbeliever basis to see if there are any other differences between the two groups.

What do you think?

Have Scientists Isolated Evidence of Psychic Phenomena?

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, the White Queen tells Alice that in her land, “memory works both ways.” Not only can the Queen remember things from the past, but she also remembers “things that happened the week after next.” Alice attempts to argue with the Queen, stating “I’m sure mine only works one way…I can’t remember things before they happen.” The Queen replies, “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.”

Oh Alice, How Does Your Memory Grow

This is the opening paragraph from a really interesting article published over at the Psychology Today blog The Social Thinker, written by Melissa Burkley, Ph.D.  The idea invokes an interesting discussion of what memory is, what precognition might be and how the two are related.  Imagine, just for a moment, being able to ‘remember’ the future.  Consider the idea of being able to improve your mid-term final grade, business dinner or even that conversation with your mother-in-law simply by thinking about them and perfecting them in your own mind after they happen.

The implications of this possible evidence within the paranormal community could be far reaching; it introduces almost as many questions as it provides answers for.  Here is a bit more information on the research:

Dr. Bem, a social psychologist at Cornell University, conducted a series of studies that will soon be published in one of the most prestigious psychology journals (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology). Across nine experiments, Bem examined the idea that our brain has the ability to not only reflect on past experiences, but also anticipate future experiences. This ability for the brain to “see into the future” is often referred to as psi phenomena.

I would love to hear everyone else’s opinion on this study.  How do you think it will affect the paranormal field? Do you believe the findings (based on the original article) are valid proof that we are (or can be) psychic?