Robbins, K. and Roe, C. A. (2008) An empirical test of the theory of morphic resonance using recognition for Chinese symbols. Joint Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association (51st) & The Incorporated Society for Psychical Research (32nd), Winchester, 13-17 August 2008. Winchester: Parapsychological Association.
Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance suggests a means by which the thoughts or behaviours of physically isolated individuals may nevertheless converge in a manner that is reminiscent of ESP, and tests of the predictions of his theory have the appearance of ESP tests involving millions of potential senders. Empirical tests to date have been broadly consistent with the theory’s predictions, but evaluation of these findings may be stymied by the tendency for results to be reported in popular accounts rather than peer reviewed journal papers, so that essential methodological detail may not be available. In this study we sought to replicate earlier findings with word-based stimuli in a laboratory-based study that was intended to form part of the scientific record whatever the outcome. We also planned to extend the paradigm to consider individual differences in susceptibility to morphic resonance, and as a preliminary step looked at the effects of transliminality on performance. Sixty unselected participants were exposed to 10 stimuli consisting of 5 genuine Chinese characters and 5 false characters that were derived from genuine characters with the assistance of a native Chinese speaker in such a way as to appear authentic. Subsequently participants were asked to identify which characters they could recognize among a sheet of 20 that included all 10 that were originally presented intermixed with 10 decoys (also 5 real and 5 false). As predicted by the theory of morphic resonance, participants accurately recognized more of the genuine than false characters, t(59)= 2.40, p = .020, but also were more likely to report false memories (i.e. claim that they recognized items that were never presented) that were genuine characters than false ones, t(59)= 3.805, p < .001. These effects were not a function of presentation order. Participants’ transliminality scores were significantly related to their performance with presented characters (r = .38, p = .003) but not with decoy characters (r = .14, p = .28). These findings are interpreted in terms of Sheldrake’s theory, and designs for further empirical tests are suggested.