ESP Experiments Over Time: Is This Sixth Sense Real?

Updated June 15, 2021
Telepathy woman

ESP experiments are easy to conduct, but the results aren't always conclusive or accepted by skeptics, who dub it as pseudoscience. If you believe you have ESP and other psychic abilities, you may want to conduct one or more of these tests.

ESP Zener Card Research

Zener cards were created by Joseph (J.B.) Banks Rhine, Duke University trailblazer in parapsychology. The cards were designed by Duke colleague Karl Zener. The cards feature simple drawings of a cross, square, star, circle, and wavy lines. Rhine tested student volunteers to see if they could use ESP (Extra-Sensory Perception) to predict the cards as they were pulled from the deck. Rhine classified subjects as having ESP based on a calculation of the odds of their successful guesses against the odds of chance guessing.

Zener cards for ESP research

Many of the students had high-scores when using the Zener cards. However, many of his critics cited poor controls that allowed possible sensory leakage, such as the test subject being able to see a reflection of the cards in the tester's glasses, poor shuffling methods, and other complaints. When Rhine retired in 1965, he founded what later was renamed in his honor the Rhine Research Center. The Zener Cards are still used in many psi experiments.


Clairvoyant experiments were first recorded in 1884 by Charles Richet. Using common playing card sealed in envelopes, the subject was hypnotized and then attempted to name each card. The experiment was declared successful, but when the same experiment was performed for a group of scientists, the results were at chance level. While the Zener cards experiment is similar to this experiment, the subjects aren't hypnotized.

Fortune teller with crystal ball with people inside

Remote Viewing

Remote Viewing is a protocol that was established in the 1970s by Harold (Hal) Puthoff as a CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) project designed to spy on America's enemies, especially Russia. Remote viewers received target coordinates and followed the prescribed protocol to locate the target and psychically see it and share details.

In the 1970s, the U.S. Intelligence community became concerned about the Soviet Union psi research and tales of its success. It's rumored that Hal Puthoff, an accomplished physicist in the field of laser research, was inspired to enter the field of Psi research research. Formerly an NSA (National Security Agency) officer, Hal conducted ESP experiments to determine the existence and extent of psychic abilities.

Through the SRI (Stanford Research Institute) Hal conducted research to determine how the Soviets intended to use ESP. Eventually, the research was placed under the umbrella of DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) and in 1991, it was named the Star Gate Program. Clairvoyance was upgraded to Remote Viewing (RV) thanks to the protocol instituted.

However, in 1995, the Star Gate Program was closed and declassified. The 24-year government-sponsored ESP experimental programs may have come to an end, but the research continued in the private sector. The Rhine Research Center, Society for Psychical Research in the UK, and the Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health at the University of Arizona conduct controlled studies to help better understand ESP and other psychic phenomena. Along with studying psi, these organizations also test things such as various forms of energy healing, communication with spirits, and telekinetic abilities.

Woman looking into the future


Charles Honorton was an American parapsychologist and one of the leaders in ESP research. He conducted what is known as The Ganzfeld Experiment to test the psi ability known as telepathy.

Two individuals participated in the experiment, with one acting as the receiver and the other as the sender. The receiver was stationed in a highly controlled environment of sensory deprivation. The sender was located in a different area. The type of information transmitted from the sender to the receiver varied. Zener cards were sometimes used as are other objects for the sender to concentrate on and send the images via telephony to the receiver.

Honorton's experiment came under fire by Ray Hyman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon. Hyman analyzed Honorton's 42 Ganzfeld experiments of telepathy and concluded that each experiment had at least one flaw and therefore, the results were invalid. Honorton countered with a new method for assigning flaws, stating that while there might be flaws in the experiments, they did not have any impact on the results. Eventually, he worked with Hyman, and came up with guidelines for the Autoganzfeld Experiment.

The Autoganzeld Experiment procedures were done with a computer control and had a hit rate that was consistent with the first Ganzfeld experiments of 34.4% compared to the 25% of chance results. Once more, Hyman challenged the results citing two patterns as artifacts. Daryl Bem, who assisted in Honorton's second experiments, responded that the flaws Hyman cited as artifacts were actually part of the psi ability and should be dubbed the Hyman Effect. The Ganzfeld Experiments continued in various world laboratories.

Man and woman communicating using telepathy


Precognition experiments generally follow the same pattern The subjects are forced to choose between several possible targets. These targets might be Zener cards, colored items, visuals displayed on a computer, and other type of series. The subject is challenged to predict the next card, color, or visual in a series.

The goal of this type of experiment is to have a percentage of hits over chance hits. The results of this type of on-demand experiment don't prove precognition abilities.

Psychological game of mentalism with zener cards


Psychokinesis (PK) is the ability to move objects with your mind. Several experiments have been conducted to prove the PK ability exists. Like other PK experiments, psychokinesis experiments have been highly criticized for not having proper scientific controls and repeatability. Uri Geller is a famous psychic who claimed to have the ability to bend spoons with his mind.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Uri wowed audiences with his spoon-bending trick, supposedly using just his mind. His critics call him an illusionist, cheater, and magician, but Uri describes himself as a psychic. He's accused of using tricks and magic to give the illusion of psychokinesis and telepathy staged cameras during one of his performances revealed him bending the spoon prior to the performance. Another closeup of a video revealed him pulling out the stem of the watch for his miraculous time trick. Over the decades prizes have been offered by skeptics for a demonstration of ESP, but so far, no one has walked away with the prize.

Telekinetic force manipulation

ESP Remains a Mystery

After decades of ESP experiments and government sponsored parapsychology research, there is still no definitive answer. No scientist can point to any set of parameters that will generate a repeatable effect to prove the ESP phenomenon. It might be that the very nature of ESP defies modern scientific methodology, understanding, and requires different parameters.

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ESP Experiments Over Time: Is This Sixth Sense Real?