Thousands of Twitterers have participated in what’s being called the first ever mass scientific experiment conducted via the microblogging service.
Richard Wiseman, a psychology professor at the University of Hertfordshire, teamed up with New Scientist to test “remote viewing,” also known as extra-sensory perception or ESP.
I know what you’re thinking. Remote viewing is hogwash. But the U.S. government spent millions testing whether extra-sensory perception — the power to perceive details about an object far away through some sort of psychic ability — might be possible.
Prof. Wiseman lodged himself at a secret location on four occasions last week and solicited input from Twitterers around the world to chime in on where they thought he was. After they did that, he tweeted a Web site where participants could choose between five photos representing the correct location and four decoys.
Most got it wrong. “In the first trial I was looking at a striking modern building, but a majority — 35% — of the group thought that I was in some woods,” he said. “The same pattern emerged in all four trials.”
Interestingly, Prof. Wiseman says those who believed in the paranormal (38% of the Twitter participants) were more likely than the skeptics to “convince themselves there was a high level of correspondence between their thoughts and the target.” He says that sort of creative thinking may be what’s necessary for someone to believe in the paranormal.
Even more than the study results, he thinks the study showed the potential for Twitter and other social-networking sites to conduct research.
Study participants who talked to The Wall Street Journal welcomed this particular usage of Twitter but expressed some skepticism.
“There’s no reason someone couldn’t participate a hundred times and submit a hundred different names. It would not be terribly difficult,” said Michael Kaufman. But he also says Twitter “isn’t (currently) providing any great service to humanity…we are starting to use it for something more.”
Another participant, Andrew Bartel, who did not guess the correct target location, said he hopes for a day when Twitterers use the site for “mindcasting,” or tweeting ideas, and less for “lifecasting,” or posting mundane day-to-day activities.