[ExI] Psi in a major science journal, J. Personality and Social Psychology

Damien Broderick thespike at satx.rr.com
Tue Oct 19 16:00:41 UTC 2010


"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.... Bem's studies are 
unique in that they represent standard scientific methods and rely on 
well-established principles in psychology. Essentially, he took effects 
that are considered valid and reliable in psychology - studying improves 
memory, priming facilitates response times - and simply reversed their 
chronological order.

For example, we all know that rehearsing a set of words makes them 
easier to recall in the future, but what if the rehearsal occurs after 
the recall? In one of the studies, college students were given a list of 
words and after reading the list, were given a surprise recall test to 
see how many words they remembered. Next, a computer randomly selected 
some of the words on the list as practice words and the participants 
were asked to retype them several times. The results of the study showed 
that the students were better at recalling the words on the surprise 
recall test that they were later given, at random, to practice. 
According to Bem, practicing the words after the test somehow allowed 
the participants to "reach back in time to facilitate recall."

In another study, Bem examined whether the well-known priming effect 
could also be reversed. In a typical priming study, people are shown a 
photo and they have to quickly indicate if the photo represents a 
negative or positive image. If the photo is of a cuddly kitten, you 
press the "positive" button and if the photo is of maggots on rotting 
meat, you press the "negative" button. A wealth of research has examined 
how subliminal priming can speed up your ability to categorize these 
photos. Subliminal priming occurs when a word is flashed on the computer 
screen so quickly that your conscious brain doesn't recognize what you 
saw, but your nonconscious brain does. So you just see a flash, and if I 
asked you to tell me what you saw, you wouldn't be able to. But deep 
down, your nonconscious brain saw the word and processed it. In priming 
studies, we consistently find that people who are primed with a word 
consistent with the valence of the photo will categorize it quicker. So 
if I quickly flash the word "happy" before the kitten picture, you will 
click the "positive" button even quicker, but if I instead flash the 
word "ugly" before it, you will take longer to respond. This is because 
priming you with the word "happy" gets your mind ready to see happy things.

In Bem's retroactive priming study, he simply reversed the time sequence 
on this effect by flashing the primed word after the person categorized 
the photo. So I show you the kitten picture, you pick whether it is 
positive or negative, and then I randomly choose to prime you with a 
good or bad word. The results showed that people were quicker at 
categorizing photos when it was followed by a consistent prime. So not 
only will you categorize the kitten quicker when it is preceded by a 
good word, you will also categorize it quicker when it is followed by a 
good word. It was as if, while participants were categorizing the photo, 
their brain knew what word was coming next and this facilitated their 

These are just two examples of the studies that Bem conducted, but his 
other studies showed similar "retroactive" effects. The results clearly 
suggest that average "non-psychic" people seem to be able to anticipate 
future events."

I had the privilege of reading this paper some months ago and have been 
awaiting its publication with considerable interest. An early version, 
as PT notes, can be found at


I await John Clark's explanation that this is all BULLSHIT because he's 
never heard of Professor Bem, or Cornell University, or Journal of 
Personality and Social Psychology--the kind of water-tight objection 
dubbed by Richard Dawkins in another context as "the argument from 
personal incredulity."

Damien Broderick

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