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UBC researchers use Ouija board to study 'unconscious' intelligence

University of British Columbia researchers believe they may have unlocked the secrets of a century-old magic trick and found a way to study a “second consciousness.”

In a pioneering study, postdoctoral researcher Hélène Gauchou and Prof. Ron Rensink used an Ouija board to tap into unconscious control and found participants were able to answer questions accurately, even when they didn't know the answer.

“Most people think they have complete control of their minds, but they're wrong,” said Rensink, an associate professor of computer science and psychology.

Like the conventional board game, Gauchou and Rensink had participants play Ouija together and answer yes and no questions. Next, they blindfolded one participant and had the other remove her fingers from the planchette. As a result, the blindfolded subject believed he was still part of a team, when, in fact, he were making all of the moves.

“What we found was people were complaining about how the other person was moving the planchette around,” Rensink said.

Rensink describes the experience as a “sense of agency,” where the unconscious system kicks in and makes real decisions. Gauchou said we engage in unconscious behaviour all the time, such as driving a car.

“We don't know how it works yet, but now we know it exists and we have a way to prove this information is somewhere,” Gauchou said.

The most surprising finding was that subjects correctly answered questions they didn't know 65 per cent of the time, a huge leap in statistical accuracy.

“When we asked the same questions afterwards and they said they were guessing, their conscious responses were basically 50 per cent, but their Ouija responses actually were much more accurate,” Rensink said.

“We do seem to have a communication channel to this intelligence, so the next step is to begin to test how smart it is ... and map out what it does well and what it does not do well,” he said.

The findings have been published in the June issue of Consciousness and Cognition.

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