Many people want to believe that there are some extrasensory powers—the ability to read minds, foretell the future, communicate with the dead, or move objects with your mind. But what is the evidence for psychic powers? Unfortunately, there is virtually no scientific data to support claims of possessing such abilities.
Many of the individuals who purport to have psychic powers are magicians or con artists, or people who simply believe that they possess extraordinary powers. The latter may truly believe that they possess psychic abilities, such as the ability to read minds, and their beliefs in their own abilities are bolstered by cognitive biases. In particular, the confirmation bias, whereby they focus on evidence that confirms that they have psychic abilities, and ignore or discount when they are incorrect. As a result, they are sure that they have proven skills, and they become more confident in their psychic abilities.
Perhaps the most famous tests of psychic abilities were conducted by magician, James Randi, in his “million dollar challenge.” Randi offered a prize of a million dollars to anyone who had a psychic power and could prove it under scientific, test-like conditions. Needless to say, the million dollars was never paid out (the challenge was discontinued in 2015, with no takers).
There have been several scientific investigations into psychic abilities, all with negative results.
I know this evidence is disheartening to those who want to believe in some extrasensory powers, but it is clear that “mentalist-magicians” such as James Randi, Penn and Teller, and the Amazing Kreskin, do have extraordinary powers – but they are simply skilled in the normal senses that we all possess. For example, they use “cold reading”—a careful observation of a subject’s body language and other nonverbal cues in order to appear that they are reading minds. [Go here for information on Everyday Mindreading]. They are also extraordinary at making logical inferences from observations of clothing, hairstyle, and mannerisms.
The bottom line is that there is no evidence of extrasensory perception, but we can hone our existing senses and be better at reading other people in everyday life.
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Ickes, William (2003). Everyday Mindreading. Prometheus Books.