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Meditation 775
Research into ESP

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I received a message from Richard Sprinthall challenging a statement on this site to the effect that "no reputable scientists have studied ESP." I have no doubt such a statement exists somewhere on this site - it sounds like something I might very well have written in response to one of those who have sent in questions about supposedly supernatural events - however, neither I nor Dr. Sprinthall have been able to track down the specific article.[1]

But as Dr. Sprinthall pointed out from his own research:[2]

Many years ago I published an article in the The Journal of Psychology, 1964, 87, 65-68. In it I showed that ESP is a total hoax and fraud and that scientifically controlled experiments expose ESP to be no more accurate than chance alone.

I replied to Dr. Sprinthall that of course he was right, and that the statement he was criticizing was poorly worded. What should have been written was probably something along the lines of "no verifiable scientific experiments have been conducted which resulted in evidence for the existence of ESP" or "no reputable scientists who have studied ESP have found verifiable evidence it exists."

In subsequent correspondence, Dr. Sprinthall noted that in response to criticism from ESP believers that his initial experiment had not taken motivation into account, conducted a further experiment where money ($100 in 1964 - not an insignificant sum) was offered for success, and no money offered to a control group. There was no significant difference between the groups.

To summarize, Richard Sprinthall found no evidence of ESP.

In the same vein as those experiments, the 13 June 2009 edition of the New Scientist[3] reports on a study of remote viewing - the supposed psychic ability to see distant places. Using over a thousand volunteers and Twitter, Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire conducted four trials over four days to determine if the volunteers could identify his location by picking the correct photograph out of five, and to determine whether those who thought they had psychic ability would outperform those who did not.

The results were that the correct location was not the leading choice in any of the trials, and that those who thought they were psychic performed no better than the rest.

So Richard Sprinthall is quite correct in his criticism. Yes, ESP is studied by reputable scientists, and when it is, it can't be found.


  1. Note to correspondents: please include a link to the article you are commenting on - you might not be able to find it later.
  2. Sprinthall, Richard C (1964). ESP: Some attitudinal factors relating to ability. Journal of Psychology, 57, (pp. 65-69)
    Abstract: A study was designed to test the hypothesis that a positive correlation exists between a S's attitude toward ESP and his ESP ability. 146 Ss were given an "Attitude Toward ESP Test" and they were then given an ESP ability test, using a standard deck of ESP or Zener cards. The group averaged 4.56 correct responses, as against a chance average of 5. A Pearson r was computed correlating the Attitude and Ability scores of all the Ss. The resultant r was .016, not significantly different from zero, and indicating that one's attitude toward ESP is completely independent of one's success in guessing the symbols on a deck of ESP cards.
  3. No Psychic Vision p10 & Tweeting my way to a scientific breakthrough p23 New Scientist 13 June, 2009