Tag Archives: parapsychology

The Mystery of Precognition

Dr. David Vernon, Senior Lecturer at CCCU describes his latest experiments, with intriguing results that defy explanation.

When learning new material, we all know that rehearsing or practising with the material can generally help if we have to recall it at a later date. This is reasonably straightforward and research tells us that such rehearsal can help strengthen the memory trace. No surprise there.

However, what do you think would happen if you were asked to rehearse the material after you had to recall it? Unsurprisingly, most people would say that rehearsing something after it had been recalled wouldn’t be any help. What is surprising however, is that they might be wrong.

I have now completed four experiments testing the idea that practise in the future can influence performance in the present. Of these experiments, two showed statistically significant effects, where practise in the future led to better recall in the present. Now this may sound odd, and, in fact, if it doesn’t, it probably means you haven’t understood what’s happening, because it is odd. But what does it mean? How can practising something in the future influence performance now? That would be similar to revising after an exam and the revision helping your exam performance!

The short answer is I that don’t know. Some researchers group this type of finding under the more general heading of precognition, which refers to the notion that you can obtain information about future events. However, others think this could simply be a statistical anomaly, or a blip in the data.

What do I think? Well, I think a good scientist remains sceptical yet open minded. After all, the history of science is full of people telling us that something is impossible only for later research to show that such unusual ideas are compatible with newly developed theories or findings.

For now, it remains a mystery, and there is nothing a good scientist likes more than a mystery. . . . .

For more information on precognition research see:
The Society for Psychical Research: https://www.spr.ac.uk/
The Parapsychological Association: http://www.parapsych.org/

Key References

Vernon, D. (in press). Exploring precognition using arousing images and utilising a memory recall practise task on-line. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.
Vernon, D. (2015). Exploring precognition using a repetition priming paradigm. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 79(2), 65-79.

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How can psychology help you win the lottery?

So, how do you win the lottery? …Well, you pick the winning numbers, of course. OK so how do you go about picking the winning numbers? Well, perhaps what you should do is practice learning the numbers that come up so that this information can have a reverse time effect enabling you to literally precall the winning numbers. This might sound bizarre, even impossible (though you should always be wary of any scientist who bandies around the word impossible) but there are some intriguing findings that suggest such effects may be possible.

Precall is an aspect of precognition, also referred to as presentiment, all of which suggest that some future event can have an effect on behaviour in the here and now. Whilst this may sound impossible, researchers have found some very interesting effects. For instance, Dean Radin found that people can exhibit a physiological response prior to the exposure of an emotionally charged picture. More recently Daryl Bem caused a stir by reporting a suite of nine experiments focusing on what he called ‘retroactive influence’. Eight of these experiments showed that some future event was capable of influencing present behaviour.

These findings intrigued me and I wanted to test them for myself. So, I managed to convince the Society for Psychical Research to part-fund a small project that would look at precognition using a repetition priming paradigm. Repetition priming is a nice way of measuring memory that doesn’t rely on conscious recall. You simply present a stimulus (in this instance a word) and the participant responds to it. Later, you present the same stimulus in between other words not seen before and what you find is that people respond faster and more accurately to the repeated word despite the fact that they don’t need to consciously think about it.

I found that repeatedly presenting a word in the future did not influence the speed of people’s responses in the past but did influence their accuracy. That is, people were more accurate to respond to words that they would see again in the future compared those they wouldn’t see again. You can read about these results in my forthcoming paper published in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (Exploring precognition using a repetition priming paradigm).

So, does this mean that it’s possible to see into the future? Well, a good scientist remains open minded and critical, and this result could simply be a random blip in the data. However, I don’t want to be accused of using Occam’s broom to sweep aside inconvenient findings, so it’s back to the drawing board for me to devise another experiment to test for such effects. Meanwhile, if you find memorising lottery numbers leads to a win don’t forget where you heard it first – funding scientific research is always such a worthy cause… 

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