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Sixth Sense Really Just Subconscious Observations, Researchers Argue

Jan 16, 2014 04:57 PM EST

What many believe to be a sixth sense is in fact one's ability to subconsciously perceive changes in the surrounding environment.

This was the conclusion researchers from Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences came to after they performed a study in which nearly 50 participants were shown a pair of pictures of the same woman.

The images were displayed for 1.5 seconds each with a one second break between them. Once the last photo was shown, the participant was asked whether a changed had occurred and, if so, what.

In some instances, there was no change, while in other cases the woman had a different hairstyle or switched around her accessories, including earrings, necklace or glasses.

"Changes could only be detected by comparing the two photographs," the researchers wrote in the study.

According to the researchers, the findings showed that participants could usually detect a change even if they were unsuccessful in identifying what precisely had shifted around. The result was observers reportedly "feeling" or "sensing" a change without being able to point directly at one.

"There is a common belief that observers can experience changes directly with their mind, without needing to rely on the traditional physical senses such as vision, hearing, taste, smell and touch to identify it. This alleged ability is sometimes referred to as a sixth sense or ESP," lead researcher Piers Howe said.

"We were able to show that while observers could reliably sense changes that they could not visually identify, this ability was not due to extrasensory perception or a sixth sense," he said.

According to The Guardian, Howe got the idea for the study when one of his students told him she had a sixth sense.

"She said she had the ability to tell if something bad had happened to someone just by looking at them," he told The Guardian.

However, Howe argues that as humans, "We receive a lot of information we don't or can't verbalise."

As an example, the researcher points to the moment when his kids suddenly quiet down in the next room over.

"I'm alerted to that subconsciously and go into the room and find that they are being quiet because they are doing something naughty. That's not a sixth sense."

The study was published in the journal PLOS One

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