Sceptics discover predictable results in ESP study

November 15, 2002

One of the largest probes into the possible existence of extrasensory perception has found no evidence of the phenomenon despite the involvement of ,856 participants.

The Mind Machine experiment, devised by Hertfordshire University psychologists Richard Wiseman and Emma Greening, toured the UK over 11 months, visiting science festivals, museums and shopping centres.

Members of the public were invited to take part in a test of their ability to predict the future. Inside a specially designed steel cabinet, they were guided through the experiment by a series of video-clips and asked to guess the outcome of four randomly generated electronic coin tosses.

The data were stored by computer and later analysed by the scientists.

The 110,959 trials conducted comprised a large enough database to detect even a very small ESP effect.

But results published in the British Journal of Psychology today show that the outcome of the experiment was consistent with chance.

The Mind Machine also found no link between ESP score and gender, belief in psychic ability or personal prediction of success.

Thirty-nine per cent of participants expected to guess the coin toss correctly three or four times out of four - but the results told a rather different story.

No effect showed up in tests that looked at "clairvoyance" - where the outcome of the coin toss was determined before the participant's guess - or "precognition" - where the result was determined after the choice was made.

Dr Wiseman said it was possible that the Mind Machine's negative results might have been due to the conditions not being conducive to ESP. Perhaps the noisy surroundings, the lack of contact with a human experimenter or even the knowledge of the involvement of Dr Wiseman, a known sceptic, was sufficient to put people off.

"Alternatively, the study may have failed to find evidence of forced-choice ESP because such an effect does not exist," the psychologists said.

Dr Wiseman said the Mind Machine also demonstrated a way to achieve mass participation in an experiment that demanded only a brief period of time from each person.

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