On Thursday, January 27, 2011, the well-respected psychologist Daryl Bem, PhD appeared on the Comedy Central program the Colbert Report to discuss a topic that has set the media ablaze and has given the world of psychology a new perspective on how to test theories that have been the subject of parapsychology for over a century. Retroactive habituation, or time travelling porn (as Stephen Colbert called it), is an example of precognition (receiving information about future events) which can be demonstrated under laboratory conditions using traditional psychological testing methods. This top notch research has been recognized by the New York Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today and ABC News, and it has been published by the respected peer-reviewed scientific Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
In a typical example of Dr. Bem’s (2010) experiment, 100 participants were placed in front of a computer screen where they were shown two curtains. They were told that an image would appear behind one of the curtains and asked to guess which curtain would reveal the image. When the images that were displayed were designed to evoke a significant emotional reaction from the participants (e.g. fear, disgust, joy, or eroticism) the participants showed a 53% chance of selecting the correct curtain when a positive image was shown or of avoiding the image when a negative image was shown. Though this may sound like a small variance from chance (50%), Dr. Bem notes that 53% is the same advantage that casinos have on a roulette wheel and was the same percentage of votes received by Barrack Obama in the 2008 presidential elections. His results built upon prior research that indicated that people react to significant emotional events between 2 and 10 seconds before they happen. It seems logical that even a brief precognitive knowledge of a frightening image (like that of a tiger ready to pounce) would help a human to avoid danger and would provide a significant evolutionary advantage.
Although 60% of the public believe in ESP, psychologists are typically some of the most skeptical of all scientists when it comes to parapsychology. Because of Dr. Bem’s significant contributions to social psychology, his position at Cornel University, and his use of standard psychological testing methods, many scientists are now trying to determine how to integrate this new knowledge with existing theories.
Daryl Bem is a scientist with impeccable credentials who is highly respected for his work in psychology. He was once a skeptic of psi research, and since he has skills as an illusionist, he was recruited as a skeptical consultant on ESP experiments by leading parapsychologists like Charles Honorton. Once he became familiar with the work that was being done in parapsychology and after he critically examined the research, Dr. Bem realized that there were convincing effects being produced that called for further experimentation. In other words, rather than sticking to his deep seated beliefs and rationalizing his objections, Bem followed the evidence. By upholding the most important and honorable principles of science, Bem created experiments to help expand the reach of laboratory research that has been done for over 100 years in laboratories all over the world.
The Rhine Research Center is proud to have Daryl Bem as a member of their advisory board, and has been privileged to have him speak at the center. Keep an eye out for future experiments at the RRC related to this research, and you may have the opportunity to be part of other historic discoveries in the field of parapsychology.
Bem, D. (2010). Feeling the future: Experimental evidence for anomalous retroactive influences on cognition and affect. Retrieved February 1, 2011 from URL: http://dbem.ws/FeelingFuture.pdf
The New York Times January 6, 2011
The New York Time Jamuary 11, 2011
New Scientist November 2010
Psychology Today Octiber 21, 2010
ABC World News January 6, 2011
Huffington Post 12/17/2010
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