Sixth Sense? Extrasensory perception is not so extrasensory

While people may be able to sense changes without being able to articulate them, this did not involve any kind of sixth sense or extrasensory mechanisms.

By Ananth Baliga

People who say they have a sixth sense, or extrasensory perception (ESP), are actually detecting changes with their usual senses, and finding them hard to identify or articulate.

The research conducted at the University of Mebourne is the first to suggest that ESP is felt by people when they sense changes that they cannot visually explain.


The effect is similar to noticing a change in a friend's physical appearance but not being able to identify that it's because of a new haircut.

“We were able to show that while observers could reliably sense changes that they could not visually identify, this ability was not due to extrasensory perception or a sixth sense,” said lead researcher Dr. Piers Howe.

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Participants were asked to look at two pictures, both of the same person but one with a small change to the subject's appearance. Each picture was displayed for 1.5 seconds with a 1 second gap between, after which they were asked if they could identify any differences, from a list of nine possible changes.

The results, published in PLOS ONE, showed that while the participants were able to detect a general change, they could not pinpoint what had actually changed. They might notice that the two pictures had different amounts of red or green, but couldn't determine that this was because the woman in the picture had changed the color of her hat.


Researchers concluded that people could sense a change without being able to identify the change, but this did not involve any extrasensory mechanisms.

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[University of Melbourne] [PLOS ONE]

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