Monday, August 31, 2009

The geomagnetic field and the stock market

Because I've written about a psi-GMF link, a reader sent me this a pointer to this interesting paper from Anna Krivelyova and Cesare Robotti of the Federal Reserve Board of Atlanta:

Playing the Field: Geomagnetic Storms and the Stock Market

Explaining movements in daily stock prices is one of the most difficult tasks in modern finance. This paper contributes to the existing literature by documenting the impact of geomagnetic storms on daily stock market returns. A large body of psychological research has shown that geomagnetic storms have a profound effect on people’s moods, and, in turn, people’s moods have been found to be related to human behavior, judgments and decisions about risk. An important finding of this literature is that people often attribute their feelings and emotions to the wrong source, leading to incorrect judgments. Specifically, people affected by geomagnetic storms may be more inclined to sell stocks on stormy days because they incorrectly attribute their bad mood to negative economic prospects rather than bad environmental conditions. Misattribution of mood and pessimistic choices can translate into a relatively higher demand for riskless assets, causing the price of risky assets to fall or to rise less quickly than otherwise.

The authors find strong empirical support in favor of a geomagnetic-storm effect in stock returns after controlling for market seasonals and other environmental and behavioral factors. Unusually high levels of geomagnetic activity have a negative, statistically and economically significant effect on the following week’s stock returns for all U.S. stock market indices. Finally, this paper provides evidence of substantially higher returns around the world during periods of quiet geomagnetic activity.

Download the paper:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Something unknown

This is a trailer for a new movie on psi. I'm one of the people interviewed. It has a good clip showing the eyetracking presentiment study that I blogged about earlier.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Intuition Through Time: What Does the Seer See?

My latest presentiment study, published in Explore, coauthored with Ana Borges.

Title: Intuition Through Time: What Does the Seer See?

A great deal of human activity is involved in anticipating the future, from predicting the next influenza strain to the expectations that underlie the placebo effect. Most models of anticipation take for granted that events unfold in a unidirectional flow of time, from past to future. Two experiments were conducted to test this assumption.


Pupillary dilation, spontaneous blinking, and eye movements were tracked before, during, and after participants viewed photographs with varying degrees of emotional affect. Photos were selected uniformly at random with replacement. Experiment one used 592 photos from the International Affective Picture System; experiment two used a custom-designed pool of 500 photos. Eye data before exposure to the photos were compared by using nonparametric techniques.

Outcome Measures

Eye data were predicted to show larger anticipatory responses before randomly selected emotional photos than before calm photos, under conditions that excluded sensory cues, statistical cues, and other conventional means of inferring the future.


Data contributed by 74 unselected volunteers in two experiments showed that: (a) pupillary dilation and spontaneous blinking were found to increase more before emotional versus calm photos (combined P = .00009), (b) horizontal eye movements indicated a brain hemisphere asymmetry before viewing photos, appropriate to both the emotionality (P = .05) and the valence of the future images (P = .01), (c) participants selected for independently obtaining significant differential effects in pupillary dilation showed positive correlations between their eye movements before versus during exposure to randomly selected photos (P = .002), and (d) a possible “transtemporal interference” effect was observed when the probability of observing future images was varied (P = .05 [two-tailed]). Gender splits on these tests showed that overall females tended to perform better than males.

These studies, which replicate conceptually* similar experiments, suggest that sometimes seers do see the future. This implies that developing comprehensive models of anticipatory behavior, from understanding the nature of intuition to the placebo effect, may require consideration of transtemporal and teleological factors.

* The paper has the word "conceptual," which is a typo.

Websites of interest

Here's a few interesting websites I've run across.

Stacy Horn's blog. Stacy is author of Unbelievable, an excellent book about the J B Rhine era.

Winston Wu's "debunking skeptics" site, SCEPCOP. In the spirit of the Skeptical Investigations website.

Interchange Laboratories, Inc. is developing a mind-machine interface technology.

Mark Zilberman's Intuition Tester and especially his "Artificial Intuition Device."

UC Irvine's Don Hoffman's "User interface theory of perception" and other papers and materials. Prof. Hoffman gave a very interesting lecture at the recent Parapsychological Association conference held at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Survival of consciousness

An excellent resource (articles, course handouts, and powerpoint slides) on survival of consciousness after bodily death, from Dr. Michael Sudduth, can be found here.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Combat intuition

Here's an interesting article in the New York Times, entitled "In Battle, Hunches Prove to Be Valuable." The theme is how the neurosciences are beginning to take soldiers' intuitions seriously, and for very pragmatic reasons: "Everyone has hunches — about friends’ motives, about the stock market, about when to fold a hand of poker and when to hold it. But United States troops are now at the center of a large effort to understand how it is that in a life-or-death situation, some people’s brains can sense danger and act on it well before others’ do."

Learning why some soldiers survive in combat better than others is a growing priority in the Department of Defense, and so research funds are beginning to flow.

The cited article reads like an introduction to research I've been engaged in for about 15 years. Except for one difference. Conventional paradigms assume that these intuitions are entirely due to subconscious processing, forgotten knowledge, implicit learning, etc. These are the usual information-processing explanations for intuition, and some of those explanations are undoubtedly valid.

I've been looking at a more radical possibility -- that some of the truly astounding intuitions reflect our mind's ability to transcend everyday temporal boundaries, and to perceive future events directly.
I call this ability "presentiment," an unconscious, physiological reaction to events that are about to unfold. Specifically, in lab studies I am interested in events that cannot be inferred, outguessed, or anticipated, and where there are no sensory cues to provide hints about the future. The physiological measures I and my colleagues have used include skin conductance, peripheral blood flow, heart rate, EEG, and -- as illustrated in the photo above -- eye movement, blinking, and pupillary dilation.

This line of experiments has been successfully replicated by a growing number of independent investigators, and of the 20 or so studies I'm aware of, nearly all have shown effects in the predicted direction. About half of those studies report statistically significant outcomes.

The most common critique of these studies is that a form of the gambler's fallacy might explain the results that we see. This is because these studies involve sequences of repeated trials, some randomly containing calm or control trials, and some containing emotional or stimulus trials. After a few calm trials in a row, most people will start to worry that an emotional trial might appear next, and this rising anxiety might be mimicking, or as the critique suggests, might be what I've called presentiment. My colleagues and I are of course aware of this possibility, so we have looked for evidence of this sort of rising anxiety in the physiological data. So far, none of us have found any indication that such an explanation is viable, so the "presentiment effect" still stands.

My current work is focusing on understanding presentiment in the brain. We're studying how patterns of electrical brain activity are influenced by different types of future events, and how different forms of attention training modulate presentiment effects.