Study shows 'sixth sense' is bunk once and for all
Scientists have dismissed suggestions that some people may have extra-sensory perception, or a sixth sense, after a year-long study at the University of Melbourne.
The study, published in the journal Plos One, found that people could detect a change in their surroundings even if they were not certain about exactly what it was.
The research found that this ability was not down to any supernatural, extra senses, but was rather the result of functions of normal senses like sight. Forty eight people were presented with pairs images of a woman. In some cases the second picture would feature a slight change, such as hairstyle of the addition of glasses.
The pictures were shown for 1.5 seconds, with a one second gap on between, after which the person was asked if a change had occurred and if so to pick what it was from a list of nine options. The results showed that subjects were able to perceive a change had occurred, but they were not able to explain exactly what it was.
The Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences' Dr Piers Howe told the Guardian Australia, "What people were doing was processing information that they couldn't verbalize but were picking up on, often subconsciously.
"It's a bit like an abstract painting - it doesn't depict anything you can label, such as a sea or a mountain, but you can still get a lot of information on what's going on. The information was enough to tell them that a change had occurred, because they could tell the picture was more crowded, but not enough to say what that change was. Many believed they had a quasi-magical ability even we had set them up."
Howe said he started the study after a student told him she had a sixth sense that had allowed her to tell a relative had been in a car accident even though there were no visible marks.
Howe explained, "I told her that she may not have been able to verbally label the markings, but she picked up on them and wasn't consciously aware of them. We receive a lot of information that we don't or can't verbalize.
"For example this often happens when something disappears. If my children are being very noisy in the next room and then they are suddenly quiet, I don't realize that what has startled me is the lack of noise. I'm alerted to that subconsciously and go into the next room to find they are being quiet because they are doing something naughty."
Extra-sensory perception (ESP) has been studied on and off since the 1930's, but Howe claims his research is the first to demonstrate that people sense information they don't or can't verbalize.