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See Inside October/November 2007

Tracking a Finer Madness

Many believers in psychic phenomena are also inventive-a fact that may help bridge the gap between creative genius and clinical insanity

The experimental setup is simple: a six-foot-wide, 60-foot-long corridor with a straight black line running along the floor. A blindfolded subject attempts to walk the line, and a researcher records any wobbles to the right or left. Christine Mohr, now a lecturer in experimental psychology and neuropsychology at the University of Bristol in England, designed the study for her doctoral dissertation at the University of Zurich. Before the study participants walked the line, Mohr asked them about parapsychology--specifically, their belief in so-called psi phenomena, including telepathy, clairvoyance and psychokinesis (using mental imagery to move objects).

How could there be any connection? In fact, the results were incontestable. Among some three dozen subjects, Mohr found that the more strongly an individual believed in extrasensory experiences, the more likely he or she was to stray to the left side of the line. This drift was slight--the subjects themselves were unaware of it--but Mohr's calculations proved it. Further experiments at the University of Zurich revealed other trends among psychic devotees: on word association tests, they were apt to make more connections more quickly than skeptics were; they had far more notions about what a murky ink blot might resemble; and they were faster at identifying meaningful shapes among randomly generated patterns.

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