New Study Explores Telepathy Related to Phone Calls

September 14, 2015 Updated: September 14, 2015

A recent study asked people to guess who was on the other line when their phones rang, and showed an overall success rate above chance.

Rupert Sheldrake, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Cambridge University and studied philosophy and history of science at Harvard University, led the study, “Automated Tests for Telephone Telepathy Using Mobile Phones,” published in the July/August edition of Explore. 

He had one group of subjects select three potential callers from among their family and friends. One of those callers would be randomly selected by a computer and notified to make the phone call. Before learning who was calling, the subjects had to guess who, out of the three possible callers, was on the other line. This was repeated six times for each subject.

Pure chance would dictate that the subjects would guess correctly 33.3 percent of the time. In 2080 trails, however, the success rate was 41.8 percent, which is considered significantly above chance.

Another group of subjects selected only two people as potential callers, making the chance-level hit rate 50 percent. In 745 trials, however, the success rate was 55.2 percent, also considered a statistically significant result.

This study followed up on previous studies that also showed significant results in favor of telephone telepathy. A main purpose of this study was to explore the use of automated tests using new technology. Previous studies had been conducted in controlled environments with landlines and with subjects being filmed to ensure they could not cheat.

Cell phones were used, however, in the current study, and subjects were not supervised. Sheldrake wrote that he and his team wanted to see “what patterns of results we would obtain under ‘ecological’ test conditions, in which participants were using mobile phones while carrying on with their normal lives.

“We did not film or supervise the participants, and hence it was possible that some were cheating. Therefore, we do not claim that positive results in these exploratory experiments are compelling evidence for telepathy, but rather that they point to new ways of investigating telepathy experimentally.”

He noted, however, that it was very unlikely that the subjects cheated even if they were unsupervised. First of all, there was no incentive to cheat. Researchers were paid to recruit a certain number of participants, they were not paid based on hit rates.

The score patterns also suggest cheating did not occur: “Presumably cheaters would have had high scores, and most people would have scored at the levels expected by chance. Yet in fact many people’s scores were above chance.”

Sheldrake wrote: “If cheating was occurring, instead of a few subjects cheating a lot, most subjects would have had to cheat a little [to produce the results we observed], and to do so they would have had to be in collusion with at least one of their callers. This seems very implausible.”

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