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  • 11.24.10

Predicting the Future With Porn?

An upcoming study claims that test subjects were able to accurately predict future events. Pornography was one of the tools used in research for the project. The methodology was sound enough to impress skeptics. What does this mean?

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An upcoming study to be published in
The Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology
claims
that test subjects were able to accurately predict future events–and that pornography was one of the tools used in research for
the project.
But the methodology is sound. Skeptics are impressed. Do humans really have extra-sensory
perception (ESP)? Can it really be triggered by the latest issue of Penthouse?

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The paper, “Feeling the Future:
Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on
Cognition and Effect,” has a pre-publication version available online. Professor Daryl Bem of Cornell
University carried out nine separate experiments with
1,000 university students. These
experiments were intended to find evidence of “psi”–precognition
or premonition. Bem defines it this way:

The term psi denotes anomalous
processes of information or energy transfer that are currently
unexplained in terms of known physical or biological mechanisms. Two
variants of psi are precognition (conscious cognitive awareness) and
premonition (affective apprehension) of a future event that could not
otherwise be anticipated through any known inferential process.
Precognition and premonition are themselves special cases of a more
general phenomenon: the anomalous retroactive influence of some
future event on an individual’s current responses, whether those
responses are conscious or nonconscious, cognitive or affective.

The most interesting of the nine
experiments used pornography to test for ESP. Experimentees were
asked 36 times to guess whether an image of “couples engaged in
nonviolent but explicit consensual sexual acts” or a blank picture
would show up on different sectors of a video screen. Subjects were
able to predict the appearance of the pornographic picture 53.1% of
the time–significantly above the statistical average of 50%.

That number, while low, is significant enough to imply something
more significant than a simple statistical anomaly. Bem’s conclusion: there is a “precognitive detection of
erotic stimuli” and a “precognitive avoidance of negative
stimuli.”

Bem is a prominent
social psychologist
who is currently Professor Emeritus at
Cornell and who has written extensively on sexual orientation and
personality theory. In his paper, Bem states his wish to make it more
socially acceptable in the academy for studies to be conducted on psi
and related topics.

Critics are taking the paper
seriously. Writing in Psychology Today,
Brown University’s Joachim
Krueger
–a noted skeptic–praised the paper’s methodology
and scientific rigor while still damning psi as “belief in
processless causation.” But we doubt we’ve heard the last
of ESP in academia–or the study of porn’s predictive powers.

[Image
via Flickr user brain_blogger]

Follow Neal
Ungerleider on Twitter.

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