Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Presentiment update

I was interviewed for a TV program on premonitions by ABC News 20/20. It will be broadcast on Friday October 26, 2012, and then afterwards the entire show can be seen on the ABC website

Update (10/28/12): The broadcast program was completely different than what I had been told it would be by one of the producers. Someone at ABC News apparently thought there was too much science on the program, and as a result the show was dumbed down to the point where the content ranged between outright stupid and ridiculously silly. 

This page on the ABC site makes the show newsworthy because it reports on "Evidence of Premonitions Discovered in New Study." This title refers to a meta-analysis of presentiment experiments published in the journal Frontiers in Perception Science by Northwestern University neuroscientist Julia Mossbridge, University of Padova psychologist Patrizio Tressoldi, and University of California Irvine statistician Jessica Utts. 

What they analyzed were experiments similar to those I've been publishing since 1997 and describing every now and then on this blog. The paper's abstract reads:
This meta-analysis of 26 reports published between 1978 and 2010 tests an unusual hypothesis: for stimuli of two or more types that are presented in an order designed to be unpredictable and that produce different post-stimulus physiological activity, the direction of pre-stimulus physiological activity reflects the direction of post-stimulus physiological activity, resulting in an unexplained anticipatory effect. The reports we examined used one of two paradigms: (1) randomly ordered presentations of arousing vs. neutral stimuli, or (2) guessing tasks with feedback (correct vs. incorrect). Dependent variables included: electrodermal activity, heart rate, blood volume, pupil dilation, electroencephalographic activity, and blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) activity. To avoid including data hand-picked from multiple different analyses, no post hoc experiments were considered. The results reveal a significant overall effect with a small effect size [fixed effect: overall ES = 0.21, 95% CI = 0.15–0.27, z = 6.9, p < 2.7 × 10−12; random effects: overall (weighted) ES = 0.21, 95% CI = 0.13–0.29, = 5.3, < 5.7 × 10−8]. Higher quality experiments produced a quantitatively larger effect size and a greater level of significance than lower quality studies. The number of contrary unpublished reports that would be necessary to reduce the level of significance to chance (> 0.05) was conservatively calculated to be 87 reports. We explore alternative explanations and examine the potential linkage between this unexplained anticipatory activity and other results demonstrating meaningful pre-stimulus activity preceding behaviorally relevant events. We conclude that to further examine this currently unexplained anticipatory activity, multiple replications arising from different laboratories using the same methods are necessary. The cause of this anticipatory activity, which undoubtedly lies within the realm of natural physical processes (as opposed to supernatural or paranormal ones), remains to be determined.
The parenthetical portion of the last line of the abstract is rather peculiar. As I understand it, it was added by the authors due to the concerns of at least one referee, who was apparently worried that some may see this paper as supporting evidence for an anomaly that is far too similar to what people have reported through the ages as instances of precognition.