Almost every one of us has ever experienced this strange feeling that something is not quite right. That something has changed around, but you find it impossible to understand what exactly it is. All attempts to find a sensible explanation and rationalize your experience just fail.

The “sixth sense” is one of the favorite themes in literature and cinema: countless movies are filmed and numerous books are written about it…

A team of psychologists at the University of Melbourne decided to set up an experiment to find out whether it is possible to find a rational explanation of the sixth sense and what really lies behind this intriguing phenomenon.

The experiment

The participants were shown two pictures of the same person. Each image remained on the screen for 1.5 seconds, while there was a one-second pause after showing each photo.

The participants were asked whether they noticed any change in the pictures. If the subject answered positively, he or she was asked to choose the type of change from a long list. Then the experiment was repeated with other photos – in total, 140 times.

The psychologists were particularly interested in the cases where the subject noticed the change but could not identify it, i.e. he or she only “felt” that something was wrong.

Sometimes, the scientists just showed the same picture without any changes. If a participant noticed changes, although there were none, the results had to be corrected.

The researchers found that if the general background of a photo did not change, the participants could accurately mark the changes in the appearance of a person in the photo.

But when there was a visual change in the general background, the subjects experienced difficulties in making sense of their feelings. They felt that “something was wrong”, but they could not make out what exactly had changed: whether it was a hairstyle, a lipstick color, or the clothes of people in the photos.

So what is a rational explanation of the sixth sense, according to this study?

As a result of the experiment, the psychologists concluded that the so-called “sixth sense” has a rational explanation. Depending on the circumstances, such as, for example, different lighting in the room, people unconsciously note changes in the appearance of others.

However, the inability to efficiently identify changes due to an excess of visual or acoustic information creates a strange contradictory feeling, which is usually called a “sixth sense”.

What do you think? To me, the methods and the results of this experiment seem overly simplistic. Phenomena such as the sixth sense, intuition, and gut instinct are way more complex than just noticing changes in someone’s appearance. More often than not, these vague feelings don’t involve visual perception at all.

When you experience anything of the kind, you just know, feel, and sense things. You don’t actually notice or see them. And of course, this feeling is not limited to visual stimuli. You can have a gut instinct about anything, sometimes, even the most profound aspects of a situation or a person.

So I doubt if there can be a rational explanation of the sixth sense at all, and I certainly doubt that this study has provided a convincing one.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. IHW

    I sense, believe and actually know that this is absolute rubbish, what these so-called psychologists (better statisticians) “found”. What humans know as the existing sixth sense is also existing in blind people, who could not be “tested” with such simplistic picture games.
    Start thinking for a change before you set up such flawed experiments and publish such nonsense

  2. Otto Bhan

    Ack! I agree with the previous post. The study seems terribly flawed and wildly over generalized.

    My question is, “What do you call it, or imagine, that ability or perception or sense is… when we know someone is looking intently at us?” Conversely, when we get someone to turn around and look at us by staring with intent.

    Is it photonic pressure? Is it sixth sense? My best flawed name for it and other visceral knowing beyond consciousness is… yep, sixth sense.

    But thanks for playing Aussies. Keep trying. I understand you folks were the first to move light photons with magnetism. Is that still true?

  3. tmraywood

    Mmmright. The language “I feel like something has changed” can hope to account for only a trace of what is meant by the term sixth sense. I hope the study acknowledges its own limitations.

    As I find shared likewise above, (I just knew it would be), my favorite personal example of the sixth sense phenomenon is of the someone’s watching you sort. I was with a group of about twenty students participting in an orientation which, it turns out, was highly interactive by design. During a lull in activity I felt my neck literally snap my head about forty degrees to my left where, to my surprise, I found the program director staring at me with, how say, both barrels. Whoa! Wasn’t thinking about her. Didn’t know she was seated where she was. Wasn’t looking about the rooom. None of that. Just snap, bam, and whoa. Too, be mindful, the snap was crisp. It wasn’t a scan or in any way generalized. I somehow knew precisely where to look, right ot the exact spot.

    Since she was sitting there beside someone with whom I’d developed a confidence, that very day I was able to gather ‘intel’ as to what prompted this behavior, that is, what prompted the glaring. So just that quickly I was able to get a firtshand report that, yes, the glaring meant just what most of us would have interpreted it to mean: the lady had taken an abrupt disliking to me. Nor did she ever change her mind, no matter how well I performed in my studies. Every conversation had this weird power play kind of vibe to it. And sure enough, at the first possible opening she pounced, throwing me out of the program. (The school itself stepped up though and filled in the sponsorship gap.)

    There’s more to the story of course. But the whole ‘sudden knowing’ thing is a trip and, I agree, stands far more in keeping with what most of us mean by ‘sixth’ sense than is the subject matter of this study. Heck, if vaguery were the crux of what it means to have an active sixth sense, then every dullard on the planet would be Kreskin. Generally, sensing change but not being able to describe it is called being stupid.

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