Sixth Sense Case Study

Mention science and sixth sense in the same breath and you can expect the skeptic sparks to fly! No doubt there has been plenty of controversy around this topic for many years. However while you normally might expect science to be on a never ending debunking quest, as we enter the world of quantum physics and the God particle, the veils between science and spirituality are thinning. Many scientists are out to support rather than disprove psychic abilities. In many cases, science actually upholds the sixth sense.

The History

When you think about it, the sixth sense came long before science. Consider our earliest ancestors—the primitive hunter-gatherers. They relied heavily upon their intuition for survival. Avoiding danger, hunting prey and seeking shelter often demanded quick and decisive action not always provided by rational thought. Call it instinct or ESP, it’s been part of our DNA for a very long time.

Many scientists are out to support rather than disprove psychic abilities. In many cases, science actually upholds the sixth sense.

Science has always had an interest in the sixth sense, and not just to disprove it. Distinguished scholars and scientists established the American Society for Psychical Research in the late 1800’s to promote research and understanding of psychic and unexplained phenomena. In fact it is still in existence today.

One of the earliest scientific studies to support the case for ESP abilities took place in the 1940’s at Duke University under the direction of J.B. Rhine. Using a set of cards with specials markers (called Zener or ESP cards) he observed the number of correct guesses achieved by test subjects. Rhine found that people generally performed better than chance expectations, leaving little doubt that there is evidence of the sixth sense.

Top Secret Sixth Sense Science

According to now declassified information, in the 1970’s research conducted at the Stanford Research Institute determined that psychic abilities exist to view and sense objects at remote locations.

Known as remote viewing, this display of sixth sense phenomena was developed out of interest for its military applications. As noted in Wikipedia, it was funded by the US Government and sponsored by several agencies including the CIA, the US Air Force and US Army Intelligence. We know that government often wastes money, but to spend $20 million dollars back then on a frivolous project is highly unlikely. And we do know that many CIA agents and military officers were trained in remote viewing, including Joseph McMoneagle, who was highly decorated for his service using these abilities. Who says science doesn’t support psychic phenomena?

Modern Sixth Sense Studies

Just because we’re living in the 21st century doesn’t mean we’ve stopped studying psychic phenomena. The sixth sense it still a timely topic worthy of in depth research and study. Which brings us to the modern scientific studies that support the existence of the sixth sense.

One of the most discussed modern studies came out of Cornell University conducted by Daryl J. Bem, Professor Emeritus of Psychology. Through nine different experiments he demonstrated that our brains could see into the future. Traditional psychological tests like priming were used (where photos are categorized as positive or negative when flashed on a screen while the answers are subliminally prompted ahead of time). However Dr. Bem reversed this method and showed the subliminal words after the photos. He found that people were able to correctly predict and categorize the photos thus providing evidence of ESP.

Other modern researchers like Dr. Rupert Sheldrake and Dr. Dean Radin have also found evidence to support the existence of the sixth sense. According to information from, Dr. Sheldrake conducted an experiment that showed beyond random chance that people could predict who would be calling them on the phone, also known as telephone telepathy. Meanwhile Dr. Radin has spent a lifetime gathering evidence to support ESP and has documented it in his book The Conscious Universe.

Although there is much more research to be done in the area of psychic abilities, it is exciting to see increasing support from science rather than strict skepticism.

At least one type of "sixth sense" isn't real, new research suggests.

The new study, detailed Monday (Jan. 13) in the journal PLOS ONE, found that what people perceive as a sixth sense may simply be their vision systems detecting changes they can't articulate.

"People can sense things that they believe they cannot see," such as changes in a person's appearance, said study co-author Piers Howe, a vision scientist at the University of Melbourne in Australia. "But this isn't anything magical or a sixth sense; this can be explained in terms of known visual processing."

Sixth sense?

Most Americans believe in the supernatural. In fact, one survey found that almost one-third of people believe in extrasensory perception and more than two-thirds reported a paranormal experience. [Teleportation, ESP & Time Travel: 10 Tales of Superpowers]

While a few scientific studies have hinted that people can sense the future just before it happens, follow-up studies concluded these results were artifacts of statistics or flawed study design.

Howe's interest was piqued when a student came to him claiming she had a quasi-magical sixth sense.

"She claimed that she could sense things that she couldn't see," such as when a friend was recently in an accident, Howe told LiveScience.

Howe was skeptical, so he and University of Melbourne psychology graduate student Margaret Webb decided to test this sense.

Normal visual processing

Webb had friends dress up to pose in a pair of pictures, with slight appearance changes. For instance, his friends would wear glasses in one photo but not in the other, or put on lipstick in one photo and not in the other.

The team then showed 48 undergraduate students the first photo for 1.5 seconds, followed by a 1-second pause, before revealing the other photo. Participants then had to indicate if there were any differences between the photos and, if so, what those differences were. (The students could pick possible changes from a list.)

Participants often accurately detected there were changes in the photos. But the students weren't very good at identifying what had changed, even with big alterations, such as the removal of a large Mexican hat. The same phenomenon is at play when friends miss that new hairstyle or pair of glasses, or sense a change but can't quite put their finger on it, Howe said.

Howe suspected that the brain detected shifts in the visual metrics it uses to understand a scene — such as darkness, color, verticality or contrast — but that it didn't translate to the person's ability to verbalize what had changed.

In a second experiment, the team showed students an array of red disks and green disks, and showed the array again with some of the disks randomly switched from one color to another. Once again, many people detected changes they couldn't identify.

But when the team changed the color of some disks, but not the total amount of red and green in all of the disks combined, this "sixth sense" went away.

Die-hard believers

The findings suggest the origin of the phenomenon in which a person seems to be intuitively aware of something that they don't believe they have seen or sensed in another way is due to the perception of differences in these visual metrics, not a sense that operates outside the normal laws of physics. For instance, in the case of Howe's student, she may have noticed tiny changes in his appearance (such as small cuts or a bandage), but not been consciously aware that she picked up on those cues.

The study is unlikely to convince believers in the supernatural, Howe said.

"I can present this evidence, but people who feel they have a sixth sense — they are just going to carry on believing it," Howe said. "It's a very compelling feeling that you have a sensing ability. And you do have a sensing ability — it's just not magical."

Follow Tia Ghose on Twitter and Google+. Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

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