A study conducted at Eastern Illinois University found evidence that belief in psychic powers might help people win game shows. Clinical psychology student Heather Warner-Angel conducted the study as part of her master’s thesis, which examined psi phenomena (e.g., precognition, telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis) and described a strong association with psychedelic substances. Nobody’s telling Miss Cleo fans to drop LSD and go on Jeopardy (actually, yes we are), but the “Psi Performance, Belief in Psi, and Competition in a Game-Show Format” thesis is certainly a trip with or without a tab of acid.
The thesis involved an elaborate experiment with 98 participants. At the start, the participants all filled out questionnaires rating their belief in mental telepathy on a scale of one (low belief) to seven (strong belief). Previous studies found that shared experiences and incentives increased the likelihood of above-chance hits, so she created teams that would compete for money in a game show-like format.
The five-person teams (divided by gender) won or lost based on their abilities to transmit information telepathically. Each team member took a turn as a receiver, which entailed going into the receiver room and trying to pick up what his or her group (senders) attempted to communicate telepathically from the sender room. Both rooms contained a large board with four circles drawn on it. Next to the boards, the receiver room had discs the same size as the circles, while the sender room had just two discs, one marked +$ and the other -$.
Once everyone was ready, a random-number generator told the sender group where to place the +$ and -$ discs on the board. The senders then concentrated on the location of the +$ disc, attempting to communicate its location to the receiver. A bell rang in the receiver room telling the participant that a telepathic message was being sent, and then he or she attempted to put the disc in the same circle as the +$ disc in the other room.
If the receiver put the disc in the right spot, his or her team won two bucks, but if the disc was placed in the same circle as the -$ disc, the team lost two bucks. If the receiver put the disc in a circle that was empty in the sender room, he or she had to put up more discs until the +$ or -$ circle was found. Cameras allowed the researchers and the teammates to watch the activity, and a bell sounded whenever the receiver placed a disc in a circle that corresponded with a +$ or -$ disc.
After each attempt, the location of the +$ and -$ circles changed at random, and the participant tried again for a total of 10 attempts. The person then returned to the sender room, and another member of the group went to the receiver room and attempted the same task 10 times. After all five teammates completed the task (for 50 total tries), the researchers calculated how much money was won or lost. The experiment involved 20 total teams, with two teams participating each week for 10 weeks total. At the end of the experiment, the researchers compared the tallies to see who won the most money.
Given the format, the probability of hitting a +$ or -$ was 50-50, so the teams that won the most money would, in theory, be the ones most in tune with their psychic abilities. So, did the findings suggest the telepathic transmissions got through to the receivers? The not-so-simple answer is both yes and no.
Given the 50-50 odds, the average person should have selected the +$ location eight times per 16 sessions, while the experiment produced an average of 8.22 hits per 16 sessions. Warner-Angel noted, “While results were not significant, a trend towards above chance hitting is evident,” though she later admitted that it was “barely above chance.”
The findings became more interesting, however, when the hit rates were categorized by belief in psychic powers. Per the belief-level surveys, 33 participants expressed a low belief (one to three), 28 fell in the middle (four) and 37 expressed high belief (five to seven). The 37 participants who expressed high belief in psychic abilities scored an average of 8.92 hits per 16 attempts, with 21 scoring hit rates of nine or higher and only seven scoring seven or lower. Conversely, the 33 participants with low belief scored an average of 7.67 hits, with eight scoring hit rates of nine or higher and 15 scoring seven or lower.
“Given the strength of these findings,” wrote Warner-Angel, “it appears that psi phenomena and mental telepathy, specifically, do occur and may be influenced by belief in psi, group setting and competition. It is noteworthy when the variable of belief is not taken into consideration, the data appears to be random, yet once belief is considered, findings emerge.”
Still, she added that it’s unclear whether belief in these abilities or actual psychic abilities enabled people to perform better in telepathic tasks. Moreover, belief in psychic abilities was not the only factor Warner-Angel noted as having a role in higher hit rates. Though not tested in this particular study, the researcher said the use of psychedelic substances often correlates with psychic conduciveness.
“[Psychic phenomena] have long been associated with certain psychedelic drugs as research has shown that users of psychedelics tend to express stronger belief in paranormal phenomena than nonusers,” she explained. “Because psychedelic drugs have documented mind-altering and visionary effects, they naturally lend themselves to be conducive to the subjective experience of psi phenomena.”
So what exact role might psychedelics play in inducing psychic phenomena?
Warner-Angel continued, “Several researchers have suggested that exceptional mental phenomena (e.g. psi, out-of-body experiences, alien abduction experiences, etc.) solicit a highly specific neurochemical activity in which psychedelic molecules may play a role. [One researcher proposed] DMT and its role in the neurochemical activity of the pineal gland may be the neurochemical foundation for near death and alien abduction experiences.”
Opinions differ on which psychedelic drugs act as psychic triggers, so studies often focus on the similarities shared by various substances. A researcher named Dr. David Luke summarized the shared effects as follows: “These effects include: 1) an increase in vividness and quality of mental image and the dreamlike state, 2) altered perception of self-identity (e.g., unity consciousness), 3) distorted sensory input, 4) sensitivity to subtle changes and intensity of feeling, 5) increased suggestibility, 6) increased optimism toward impossible realities, 7) complex distortions and a feeling of transcendence of space and time, and 8) increased empathy, which is considered a key component for telepathic experience.”
Warner-Angel also noted how shamans, spiritual gurus and healing practitioners have long used drum circles, chanting and dancing to induce trance-like states with similar effects. She believes that, due to the similarities, “endogenous plants such as ayahuasca and psilocybin were gradually incorporated into shamanic practices over time in order to bring about mystical experiences more quickly.” In other words, psychedelics might help transport people to these trance-like states that, in turn, make people more conducive to psychic experiences.
All of this is highly speculative, but the thesis seems to suggest the following possibility: Both psychedelics and belief in psychic phenomena can help enhance psychic conduciveness, which a person can theoretically use to help win TV game shows.
The problem? Telepathy might help a person rake in the chips at a Vegas poker table, but it probably won’t help a person win The Price Is Right or Wheel of Fortune. Precognition, on the other hand, might actually help on game shows, and a 2002 Gallup poll found that more Americans believe in precognition (50 percent) than telepathy (36 percent). So maybe it’s time to visit a shaman, take a trip down the rabbit hole, gather a few high-belief friends and compete on whatever game show will have you. For all we know, it’s happened before.
Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings might claim to be straight laced, but under that smart religious exterior could lie a Roy Moore-like freak. Jennings—who lives in cannabis-friendly Seattle—might have prepared for his record-setting run with an Amazonian shaman who helped bring out his precog prowess. It’s enough to make you want to say, “I’ll take AYAHUASCA for $200, Alex!”
David Jenison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.