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Ideomotor Effect vs. ‘Extraordinary Human Activities’ such as ESP and Psychokinesis?

Is the ideomotor effect a comprehensive explanation for ‘extraordinary human activities’ such as ESP and psychokinesis?

Ideomotor effect is a phenomenon where the body reacts reflectively to an idea without the individual making a conscious decision to act. An example of this phenomenon is the unconscious production of tears by the body when reacting to powerful emotions. Other effects that are attributed to this phenomenon include the Ouija boards, dowsing, automatic writing and facilitated communication. This phenomenon has been attributed by mystics to a supernatural or paranormal force (Sherwood & Roe, 2003).

Ideomotor response, which is sometimes referred to as ideomotive reflex (IMR), is a concept derived in hypnosis or psychological research. “Ideo” represents an idea or a mental representation, while “motor” refers to a muscular activity. Ideomotor response refers to he processes whereby thoughts or mental images result in involuntary muscular response or reflexive. Extraordinary or paranormal human activity such as Psychokinesis and ESP has been attributed in psychology discourse to the ideomotor effect. The objective of this discussion is to critically analyze the justification of this association (Cordón, 2005).

ESP (Extra-sensory perception)

ESP is commonly known as the sixth sense, it refers to sensory information that individuals receive from sources that are outside the usual five senses of hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell. Since it originates form alternate or second reality, it is alleged to provide individuals with information abut the past, the present and the future. According to Dr. J. B. Rhine, extra-sensory perception is responsible for supposed extra ordinary abilities such as telepathy, which is the ability to perceive the emotions or actions of other people without using the conventional five senses, Precognition, which is the ability to conceive future events, Clairvoyance, which is the ability to conceive information about other people without using the five senses, and Psychokinesis, which is the ability to move objects without physical contact (Marks & Kammann, 2000).

Rhine’s ESP experiments

1n 1872, Dr. Paul Joire, a French researcher, used the phrase to illustrate that people who where in a stupor or in a state of trance, or were hypnotized, had the ability to sense things externally without using the conventional five senses. In the 1930s, the term was further popularized by J. B. Rhine, an American parapsychologist. He is known to be one of the first parapsychologists to undertake ESP tests in a laboratory setup. Previous ESP studies were to a large extend tentative as they mostly consisted of spontaneous incidents. Individuals that were used in these studies were in most cases self-claimed psychics.

In, 1930, Rhine conducted the first Card-guessing experiments at Duke University. The cards were made in five designs, which are now referred to as ESP symbols. They consisted of a circle, a square, a plus sign, a set of three undulating lines, and a five pointed star. In Rhine’s experiments, subjects attempted to call out or guess how the five cards were ordered when they were randomly placed in a deck consisting of 25 cards. Chances of correctly calling a card were said to be one out of five. According to Rhine, chances of making high scores were once in a thousand or a million tries, and individuals who achieved this scores displayed ESP, or “extra chance results”.

Criticism that had been made in previous experiments had been considered by Rhine and used to improve his research. Critics had alleged that that there could have been sensory indications. For instance, if the back of the cards was exposed to strong light, then the symbols on the card could be detected. In Rhine’s experiments, target cards were covered by oblique shielding, or placed far from subjects. Secondly, critics argued that subjects could be given cues by experimenters who knew the target, and thirdly, it was possible to record exaggerated figures of the hits that occurred. In recent experiments, machines or people who don’t know the targets either are used to record the hits (Colborn, 2004).

A common criticism for these experiments is that experimenters are likely to publish only favorable results. Secondly, the results achieved in these experiments are not repeatable and are often inconsistent. Thirdly, researchers may employ fraudulent processes to achieve results that support their hypotheses. Additionally, it was established that subjects who were indifferent to ESP scored much lower than chance, despite the fact that they consciously tried to attain a score that was above chance. Experimenters have also established that it was possible to predict high scores for people who were relaxed and had keen interest in ESP, and low scores for those were bored or had a negative attitude towards ESP. The trend in these experiments has been labeled by critics as “missing-ESP or “reverse-ESP” is an indication of the unreliability of ESP data (Hines, 2003).


century have so far not yielded any evidence to support this argument (Hansen, 2001).thPsychokinesis (PK) refers to the ability for people to move or affect physical objects by use of the mind only, without any physical contact. Several people have claimed to have such abilities. Uri Gueller for instance claims he haws the ability to bend spoons and keys, and even stop watches, just by using his mind. Investigations that have been conducted on PK since the 19

It is claimed by Dean Radin that he was able to get substantial PK results of people attempting to use the mind to influence outcomes of rolls of the dice, but goes further to admit that he can not conclude with certainty that the results are not due to precognition (Carroll, 2005). Critics argue that if people had the ability to directly affect events with their minds, there would be no consistency in the flow of events and the notion of causality as normal sequence of events would thus be disputed


Despite the speculative surmises that have been advanced regarding how psychic functioning is applicable in real life situations, not much has been achieved in regard to formulation and articulation of sound scientific theory to support the existence of ideomotor effect. Scientists have rejected ESP on the premise that it lacks an evidence base and theories which provide valid explanations of ESP. They argue that ESP lacks experimental techniques that are reliable in providing positive results in support of ESP concepts. Rhine was inspired to undertake more research on ESP by the replication failures that had been observed in previous experiments. He objective was to establish the conditions that were necessary in experimentally producing ideomotor effects such as ESP. But his conclusion was that reliability or fundamental ESP theory would not inspire progressive reach in ideomotor effects. He argued that a deeper understanding of these effects would only be triggered by greater attention to unconscious mental processes and a deeper understanding of the nature of human personality.


. The Skeptic’s Dictionary. Retrieved 2006-09-13.»ESP (extrasensory perception)»Carroll, R. T. (2005).

Colborn, M. (2004). «The decline effect in spontaneous and experimental psychical research». Journal of the Society for Psychical Research
71: 1–21.

Cordón, L. A. (2005). Popular psychology: an encyclopedia.0-313-32457-3 ISBN. p. 182. Greenwood Press. Westport, Conn:

Sherwood, S. J. & Roe, C. (2003). «A review of dream ESP studies conducted since the Maimonides studies». Journal of Consciousness Studies
10: 85–109.

New York: Xlibris Corporation. The Trickster and the Paranormal.Hansen, G. P. (2001).

2nd ed.  New Jersey: Prometheus Books. Pseudoscience and the ParanormalHines, T. (2003).

NY: Prometheus Books. The Psychology of the Psychic.Marks, D. & Kammann, R. (2000).