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CAN PEOPLE TELL WHEN THEIR PHOTO IS BEING LOOKED
AT IN ANOTHER ROOM?
by Rupert Sheldrake
Many people have had the feeling that they are being looked at from behind, and turned round to find that in fact they are. This well-known phenomenon has now been tested experimentally on a large scale, and have given overwhelmingly positive results. The feeling of being stared at does indeed seem to be a real phenomenon.
In this experiment, instead of looking at the subject directly, the looker looks at his or her photograph instead, while the subject is seated in another room. The procedure is otherwise similar to that of the "sense of being stared at" experiment. The same instruction sheets can be used, with a randomized sequence of looking and not looking trials, with twenty trials altogether in each test. A set of 24 different randomized instruction sheets for use in experiments is available on the site (DOWNLOAD Rich Text version (recommended) OR VIEW as web page).
In the standard looking experiment, the subject wears a blindfold and is stared at, or not stared at, by a person sitting behind them. In the present experiment, instead of looking at the person directly, that person's photograph is looked at instead. The person doing the looking sits in a separate room from the subject. The looker either looks at the subject's photograph, concentrating on it and thinking about the subject, or else looks away and thinks of something else. A signal is sent to the room in which the subject is sitting. For this purpose I use an electric door chime of the ding-dong type (with the dong disabled) on a long wire. The subject wears a blindfold, as in the standard staring trials, since this both prevents any possible cheating or peeping, and also makes the subject more sensitive. When the subject hears the signal for the beginning of a trial, he guesses whether or not he thinks his photo is being looked at.
METHOD WITH A SINGLE SUBJECT
If only a single subject is involved and the looker and subject are in adjacent rooms, at the end of each 10 second trial the subject can simply shout 'looking' or 'not looking'. The looker then records whether or not the guess is correct. He does not give feedback to the subject. At the end of twenty trials, the subject takes off the blindfold and becomes the looker, while the looker puts on the blindfold and becomes the subject, using a different randomized instruction sheet.
METHOD WITH SEVERAL LOOKER-SUBJECT PAIRS
For situations involving several looker-subject pairs, as in an experiment with a class at school, all the lookers are in one room, each with a different randomized instruction sheet and each with a photograph of their partner. A signal is given to all the subjects in another room either by means of a buzzer or other signalling device. There should be an adult supervising the subjects in that room, and another supervising the lookers.
When the signal has been given for trial one, and the subjects have had some ten seconds to make their guess, they are then asked to write down their result on a blank score sheet which simply lists trials one through 20, without any instructions. They write 'yes' if they think they were looked at and 'no' if they think they were not. To do this they have to raise their blindfold, they then lower it again and when they are ready the second trial begins. The supervisor of the subjects will in each case remind them of which trial they are doing so they enter the results in the right place on their score sheet. If the supervisor himself or herself loses track, then they need to ask the person supervising the lookers to make sure the trial numbers are kept in synchrony.
When all 20 tests are completed, the looker and subject come together and hand in their sheets together, having written their names on the top of them. The person supervising the experiment staples these sheets together so they can be scored.
In order to do this experiment it is necessary to have all participants bring along a photo of themselves. In a school situation, it is likely that some children will forget to bring such a photo, so it may be easier on a preceding day for the teacher to photograph all members of a class so that photos are readily available for this purpose.
The teacher should add up the scores to see how many are right and wrong, and at the looking and not looking conditions, as well as in the totals.
All instruction and score sheets should be saved for further analysis, and I would be grateful if they could in due course be forwarded on to me.
In this experiment, it may make a difference if the looker and subject are very well known to each other, for example if they are members of the same family or close friends. So please ask participants to make a note on their instruction and score sheets of any relationship or close connection that exists between looker and subject.
Please send the results and the instruction and score sheets to me at the following address:
20 Willow Road
London NW3 1TJ, England
or email a summary to Pam Smart.