23 October 2012

Precognition may exist in biological processes, suggests new review

by Will Parker

After reviewing previous studies into "anomalous anticipatory activity," researchers at Northwestern University think the phenomenon might be related to recent findings in the field of quantum biology.

Published in the journal Frontiers in Perception Science, the new meta-study is based on an analysis of the results of 26 studies published between 1978 and 2010.

Researchers already agree that our subconscious minds sometimes know more than our conscious minds. "Physiological measures of subconscious arousal, for instance, tend to show up before conscious awareness," explained the review's lead author Julia Mossbridge. "What hasn't been clear is whether humans have the ability to predict future important events even without any clues as to what might happen."

Mossbridge described a scenario where a person wearing headphones and playing a video game at work wouldn't be able to hear when her boss is coming. "But our analysis suggests that if you were tuned into your body, you might be able to detect these anticipatory changes between two and 10 seconds beforehand and close your video game," she explained. "You might even have a chance to open that spreadsheet you were supposed to be working on. And if you were lucky, you could do all this before your boss entered the room."

This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as "presentiment" (as in sensing the future) but Mossbridge said isn't sure whether people are really sensing the future. "I like to call the phenomenon 'anomalous anticipatory activity,'" she said. "The phenomenon is anomalous, some scientists argue, because we can't explain it using present-day understanding about how biology works; though explanations related to recent quantum biological findings could potentially make sense. It's anticipatory because it seems to predict future physiological changes in response to an important event without any known clues, and it's an activity because it consists of changes in the cardiopulmonary, skin and nervous systems."

Specifically, the studies that Mossman and her colleagues 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 activity.

Mossbridge, a research associate in the Visual Perception, Cognition and Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern, conducted the review with Patrizio Tressoldi of the Università di Padova, Italy, and Jessica Utts of the University of California, Irvine. They concluded that the cause of anticipatory activity, which they believe lies within the realm of natural physical processes (as opposed to supernatural or paranormal ones), remains to be determined.

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Source: Northwestern University