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Distant Mental Influence
Its Contributions to Science, Healing, and Human Interactions
By William Braud
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 2003 William Braud, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
Transpersonal Imagery Effects: Influencing a Distant Person's Bodily Activity Using Mental Imagery
William Braud and Marilyn Schlitz
The imagination of man can act not only on his own body, but even on others and very distant bodies. It can fascinate and modify them; make them ill, or restore them to health.
This chapter describes experiments in which persons were able to influence the autonomic nervous system activity of other, distant, persons using mental techniques of imagery and intention.
This information originally was presented at the Second World Conference on Imagery, Toronto, Canada, 1987. Later, the work was published in Braud, W. G., and Schlitz, M.J. (1989). A methodology for the objective study of transpersonal imagery. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 3, 43-63. Copyright © 1989 by the Journal of Scientific Exploration. Used with permission.
Abstract—Abundant methodologies already exist for the study of preverbal imagery, in which one's imagery acts upon one's own cellular, biochemical, and physiological activity. This paper reports a new methodology for the objective study of transpersonal imagery, in which one person's imagery may influence the physical reactions of another person. The method involves the instructed generation of specific imagery by one person and the concurrent measurement of psychophysiological changes in another person who is isolated in a distant room to eliminate all conventional sensorimotor communication. Thirteen experiments were conducted using this methodology. A significant relationship was found between the calming or activating imagery of one person and the electrodermal activity of another person who was isolated at a distance (overall z = 4.08, p = .000023, mean effect size = 0.29). Potential artifacts which might account for the results are considered and discounted. The findings demonstrate reliable and relatively robust anomalous interactions between living systems at a distance. The effects may be interpreted as instances of an anomalous "causal" influence by one person directly upon the physiological activity of another person. An alternative interpretation is one of an anomalous informational process, combined with unconscious physiological self-regulation on the part of the influenced person. Additional research is being conducted in an attempt to increase our understanding of the processes involved, as well as to learn the various physical, physiological and psychological factors that may increase or decrease the likelihood of occurrence of the effect.
In her book Imagery in Healing (Achterberg, 1985), psychologist Jeanne Achterberg distinguished two types of imagery which may have positive impacts upon health. In preverbal imagery, the imagination acts upon one's own physical being to alter cellular, biochemical, and physiological activity. The study of such imagery has a long history, and there exist a variety of successful methodologies for its objective evaluation. The second type of imagery that Achterberg identified is transpersonal imagery, which "embodies the assumption that information can be transmitted from the consciousness of one person to the physical substrate of others" (p. 5). She suggested that the validation of transpersonal imagery must be sought in the more qualitative types of observational data gathered by anthropologists, theologians, and medical historians, and in intuitive philosophical speculation.
Indeed, the power of preverbal imagery in influencing one's own chemical, cellular, physiological and behavioral reactions has been well documented. We find extensive evidence for such psychosomatic influences in the areas of dreaming, hypnosis, relaxation, autogenic training, biofeedback, meditation, therapeutic imagery, mental rehearsal, and placebo effects. Some of the most exciting (and potentially useful) findings regarding the influence of imagery on somatic functioning are now being reported by researchers within the new interdisciplinary field of psychoneuroimmunology, in which it is being discovered that individuals, through use of relaxation, hypnosis, and imagery techniques, may be able to exert rapid and quite specific influences upon certain subpopulations of their white blood cells (see, for example, Hall, 1984a, 1984b, 1987; Peavey, 1982; Schneider, Smith, and Whitcher, 1984).
Less well known are the various observations which tend to support the reality and effectiveness of transpersonal imagery effects. There are, of course, abundant anecdotes and field observations that the sensations, thoughts, feelings and images of one person may, under certain conditions, directly affect the bodily reactions of another person, even'when the two persons are separated by great distance, and when the influenced person is not aware that an influence attempt is being made. Observations of ostensible distant mental influence in the context of anthropology have been reviewed by Angoff and Barth (1974), Long (1977) and Van de Castle (1977). The late Eric Dingwall, in his four-volume work, Abnormal Hypnotic Phenomena (1968), surveyed many cases of putative distant mental influence which occurred in 19th-century practices of hypnosis (or "mesmerism," as it was then called). Two of the more interesting of these "higher phenomena of hypnosis" were (a) community of sensation, in which hypnotized subjects were reported to have responded appropriately to sensory stimuli presented to a distantly located hypnotist, and (b) mental suggestion, in which the hypnotist was alleged to have exerted an influence upon a distant subject's behavior (while the latter was in a hypnotic "trance") or even to have induced hypnosis itself at a distance. These phenomena, as well as the results of more modern hypnotic investigations, have been examined by Honorton (1974, 1977). Finally, possible distant mental influence effects occurring within the context of mental healing have been reviewed by Ehrenwald (1977) and by Solfvin (1984).
The possibility of distant somatic effects of imagery is also suggested by anecdotal reports of various investigators involved in clinical biofeedback applications who sometimes observed unusual correlations between the changes in electrophysiological activity of one client and those of another client (in group biofeedback training sessions) or between the client's activity and that of the investigator himself or herself. If such coincident physiological patterns are reliable and applicable, they might be explained most parsimoniously by assuming that they result from either (a) gross or subtle external stimuli that influence both persons in the same manner, or (b) internal rhythms that happen to be in phase in the two persons and interact with the monitored activities in identical ways. A third possibility, however, is that at least some proportion of these physiological congruences may be attributable to transpersonal imagery effects. Such a possibility would be highly speculative were it not for several reports of experimental findings of similar interactions between, for example, the electroencephalic (Duane and Behrendt, 1965; Putoff and Targ, 1976; Targ and Putoff, 1974) or autonomic (Dean, 1966) activity of one person and that of another person, when those persons were remotely situated, shielded, and the possibility of conventional energetic and informational exchanges between them had been eliminated. Indeed, the entire body of research findings in the areas of psychical research and of parapsychology is relevant to and supportive of the notion that the mental activity of one person may influence the bodily activity of another person at a distance. Quite complete and useful reviews of the concepts, methods, findings, and theories of modern parapsychology may be found in Edge, Morris, Palmer and Rush (1986); Krippner (1977, 1978, 1982, 1984); Nash (1986); and Wolman (1977).
The Present Research Program: Purpose and Overview
In this paper, we describe an objective, quantitative methodology for the study of transpersonal imagery which allows the investigation of the latter within the framework of experimental psychology. In addition to the methodology itself, we shall present the promising results of 13 experiments that we already have conducted in order to test the usefulness of the procedure.
The method involves the instructed generation of specific imagery by one person, and the concurrent measurement of psychophysiological changes in another person. Throughout the experiment, the two persons occupy separate, isolated rooms, and all conventional sensorimotor communication between the two persons is eliminated in order to insure that any obtained effects are truly transpersonal. In a typical experiment, Person A is instructed to use specific mental imagery in order to induce a specific physiological change in Person B, who is isolated in a distant room. The expected psychophysiological effect is assessed by measuring the spontaneous electrodermal activity (skin resistance responses, SRR) of Person B during 20 30-second recording epochs. During 10 of these epochs, interspersed randomly throughout the sequence of 20 epochs, Person A generates imagery designed to produce a specific somatic effect (decreased sympathetic nervous system activity in some cases, increased sympathetic activation in other cases); the remaining 10 epochs serve as Control periods during which Person A does not generate the relevant imagery. Person B is, of course, unaware of the sequence of the two types of epochs (the sequence is randomly determined) and is also "blind" to the exact starting time of the experiment, the number and timing of the various periods, etc. Electrodermal activity is objectively assessed by an electrodermal amplifier interfaced with an analog-to-digital converter and a microcomputer. The amount of electrodermal activity during the Imagery epochs is compared with that of the Control epochs using conventional parametric statistical techniques.
If the experimental protocol just described is not violated, and yet it is found that significantly greater somatic activity of an appropriate, imagery-relevant type is found to occur during the Imagery periods than during the Control periods, we can conclude with confidence that a transpersonal imagery effect (TIE) has occurred, and that the results cannot be attributed to (a) conventional communication channels or cues (since the two parties are isolated from contact with each other through the use of distant, isolated rooms), (b) common external signals, common internal rhythms, or rational inference of the imagery/nonimagery schedule and resultant appropriate self-regulation (since the imagery/nonimagery schedule is truly randomly determined and is unknown to Person B), or (c) "chance coincidence" (since the level of responding to be expected on the basis of chance alone may actually be determined and compared statistically with the obtained response levels).
The experiments involved the participation of unpaid male and female volunteer subjects, ranging in age from 16 to 65 years. Participants were selected from a pool of volunteers from the San Antonio community who had learned about the Foundation's experiments through local newspaper advertisements and articles, notices posted throughout the city, lectures given by Foundation staff at local colleges and universities, and comments from other participants, and whose interest in the experiments and time schedules permitted participation. Approximately equal numbers of males and females participated in the various studies. In most cases, participants were not selected on the basis of any special physical, physiological, or psychological characteristics, and could best be described as "self-selected" on the basis of their interest in the topics being researched. In only one experiment were "special" subjects recruited and selected. This was an experiment in which we were interested in whether persons having a greater "need" for a possible calming influence would evidence stronger results than persons without such a need. Therefore, for that experiment, we selected individuals who self-reported symptoms of greater than usual sympathetic autonomic activation—i.e., stress-related complaints, excessive emotionality, excessive anxiety, tension headaches, high blood pressure, ulcers, or mental or physical hyperactivity. The subjects for this experiment were also screened in an initial electrodermal activity recording session to guarantee that they did in fact exhibit greater than average sympathetic autonomic activity.
The persons who served as "influencers" in these experiments (i.e., those who regulated their own images and intentions in order to influence the subjects at a distance) were selected from a similar pool of volunteers. In some experiments, the experimenters themselves served as influencers. In still other experiments, the influencers were individuals who were interested in unorthodox healing and who themselves practiced certain mental healing techniques, such as "therapeutic touch" (see Borelli and Heidt, 1982; Krieger, 1979; Kunz, 1985) or "Reiki healing" (see Schlitz and Braud, 1985). Many of the influencers were practitioners of various forms of meditation and self-exploration. In most cases, however, the influencers were simply interested persons from the local community who wished to give the experiments a try.
The authors served as the experimenters for the series of studies, assisted in some experiments by two other experimenters, J. C. and H. K. The first author had extensive research experience in the areas of experimental psychology, physiological psychology, and parapsychology. The second author had extensive experience in parapsychological and anthropological research. The third experimenter, J. C., had research experience in the area of nursing. The fourth experimenter, H. K., was a student at a local college who was participating in a research practicum at the Foundation.
In all, 337 persons participated in these experiments. Of these participants, 271 served as subjects, 62 as influencers, and 4 as experimenters.
Physical Layout. During the experimental sessions, it was essential to guarantee that the influencer and the experimenter would not be able to communicate with the subject via conventional sensorimotor channels. This was accomplished by situating the experimenter and the influencer in one closed room, while the subject occupied a distant second room, which was also closed. Figure 1 illustrates the floor plan of the rooms used in Experiments 1 through 10. The rooms used in Experiments 11 through 13 are shown in Figure 2. The distance (20 meters or more) between the two rooms used in an experiment, and the presence of several intervening closed doors and corridors, isolated the participants from possible sensory interaction. Additionally, verbalization of any information regarding the imagery/non-imagery schedule (see below) by the influencer or the experimenter was not allowed during the experimental sessions. There were no active microphones in either room, through which participants could communicate. The headphones through which the participants in the two rooms received required auditory information were attached to independent electrical circuits so that possible "crosstalk" between two sets of headphones was eliminated (i.e., it was impossible for one person's headphone to function as a microphone for the other person's headset).
Subject's Instructions and Activities. Throughout an experimental session, the subject sat in a comfortable armchair in a dimly illuminated, closed room. In Experiments 1 and 3, the subject was exposed to visual and acoustic ganzfeld stimulation throughout the session (see Bertini, Lewis, and Witkin, 1964; Schacter, 1976); this was accomplished by having the subject view a uniform red light field through translucent, hemispherical acetate eye covers while listening to moderately loud white noise through headphones. In Experiments 2 and 4, ganzfeld stimulation was not employed; rather, the subject simply sat quietly in the dim room, with freedom to open or close the eyes as desired. In Experiments 5 through 13, the subject watched randomly changing patterns of colored lights on a 12-inch display screen 2 meters away, while listening to computer-generated random sounds through headphones. The subject was instructed to make no deliberate effort to relax or to become more active, but rather to remain in as ordinary a condition as possible and to be open to and accepting of a possible influence from the distant influencer whom he or she had already met. The subject remained unaware of the number, timing or scheduling of the various influence attempts, and was instructed not to try to guess consciously when influence attempts might be made. The subject was asked to allow his or her thought processes to be as variable or random as possible and to simply observe the various thoughts, images, sensations, and feelings that came to mind without attempting to control, force, or cling to any of them.
Excerpted from Distant Mental Influence by William Braud. Copyright © 2003 William Braud, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
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