An experiment involving a Ouija board has led three UBC researchers to publish a paper revealing the existence of nonconscious intelligence.
Hélène Gauchou, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology, was the lead author for the article in Consciousness and Cognition. It indicated that this nonconscious intelligence could be demonstrated in a laboratory experiment by relying on an ideomotor response.
"Ideomotor actions are behaviours that are unconsciously initiated and express a thought rather than a response to a sensory stimulus," the researchers explained in the paper.
Gauchou worked with psychology and computing science professor Ronald Rensink and electrical and computer engineering professor Sidney Fels to design an experiment to determine how research subjects fielded simple yes-no questions using a Ouija board.
The Parker Brothers game, which simulates a séance, includes a planchette. Players place their fingers on top of it, usually in pairs or in groups, guiding it across across letters on the board to spell out words.
In the UBC experiment, subjects were blindfolded and were led to believe that they were playing Ouija with another person. In fact, the other "player" was working with the researchers and immediately removed his or her hand before the experiment began.
This meant that the subjects were solely responsible for the movement of the planchette—and for which letters were highlighted.
This was a way for Gauchou and her team to create an ideomotor effect and show how nonconscious thoughts can trigger movement.
"Results show that when participants believed they knew the answer, responses in the two modalities were similar," the researchers reported. "But when they believed they were guessing, accuracy was at chance for volitional report (50%), but significantly higher for Ouija response (65%). These results indicate that implicit semantic memory can be expressed through ideomotor actions."
They suggested that this approach could offer a new way to study implicit processes in cognition.
The Straight featured Gauchou on the cover of the print edition in August 2010 after she and her colleagues had completed the study.
In a feature article at the time, she said that the experiment did not examine how nonconscious intelligence could shape decision-making, movements, or other forms of behaviour. It simply looked at what was stored in the subjects' memory.
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