It’s often said that psychic abilities run in families. But have any formal studies on the genetics of psychic ability ever been done?
One researcher investigated second sight. Second sight implies that there are two types of sight — our ordinary eyesight and a second type of sight that allows an individual to have prophetic visions. These happen spontaneously and not usually “on-demand.”
Second sight surveys in Northern Scotland found that people with second sight are likely to report a family member with the same ability (Cohn, 1994), and family pedigree interviews found that it does indeed run in families with an autosomal dominant inheritance pattern (Cohn, 1999). This means that if one of your parents has second sight, there is a 50 percent chance that you have it. If both your parents have second sight, there is a 50 to 100 percent chance that you have it.
At IONS, we have conducted additional surveys supporting the idea that these special abilities are inherited (approximately 58 – 70 percent) (Wahbeh, McDermott, and Sagher 2018; Wahbeh, Radin, et al. 2018). These studies are based on self-reported surveys, which led us to the question: Would modern genomic studies confirm the survey results?
We just published an article, the first of its kind, comparing the genetics of people with psychic abilities to those without.
We screened over 3,000 people around the world through a multi-step process of tests and interviews. This narrowed the pool down to a core group of 13 high-performing psychics with family members reporting similar abilities. We then matched them (based on age, gender, and race) with people who did not claim any psychic abilities or have any family members with these abilities. Then we collected saliva from all the participants, extracted the DNA, and sequenced their genes.
Results of the Pilot Study
DNA comes in two parts: Portions that code for proteins (called the exons) and portions between the coding genes that do not code for proteins (called the introns). Until quite recently, it was believed that introns were less important than exons, because our bodies are made of proteins. Thus, in spite of the fact that introns are about 97% of DNA, they used to be referred to as “junk” DNA. Today, we know that introns are important because introns control how genes are expressed.
In our study, we did not find any difference in the exons between psychics and non-psychics. However, we did find one section of the introns that differed. The psychics had one section of their noncoding DNA that was conserved, also called “wild-type.” Wild-type means that the DNA sequence was the original version and was not a mutation or variant. Because this sequence was an intron, this means that it does not code for a protein but instead regulates the activity levels of neighboring genes. And this particular intron is next to a coding region that produces proteins that are highly expressed in the brain.
Equally interesting are the sociogenetic factors relating to the expression of this intron sequence. We found that the spread of Christianity was related to the prevalence of the wild-type versus mutated version of the noncoding sequence (Wahbeh et al., 2021).
Why This Research Matters
Psychic experiences are reported by the majority of the world’s population, but they are rarely studied using the tools and techniques of science. By applying the scientific method to these experiences, we seek to better understand our full human capacities and the role that consciousness plays in the physical world.
If further work confirms our initial findings, the implications are profound. It will open an entirely new way of understanding the biological basis for psychic abilities, and their evolutionary origins and purpose. It could also allow us to better cultivate these abilities, which in turn would enhance our creativity, decision-making skills, and even our quality of life. Improved telepathy, for example, could help individuals who are living with communication disabilities. Understanding the biology of psychic abilities might even lead to a way to suppress these abilities in cases where they are potentially manifesting as psychotic symptoms (e.g., schizophrenia), or to enhance the abilities to provide new ways of exploring ourselves and the universe.
Get Involved: Advancing the Genetics of Psychic Ability Research
If you would like to play a role in advancing the research around psychic abilities, there are a few ways you can get involved.
First, we are collecting data for a follow-up study. If you are a healthy adult and have access to your genetic data through a direct-to-consumer company like 23andMe or Ancestry.com, you may be able to participate by sharing your data.
Alternatively, please consider investing in the next phase of this research. We are very grateful to the Bial Foundation and the Hittman Family Foundation for their generous support of this line of research thus far.
Your financial support will allow us to continue to move this research forward in significant ways and will allow the IONS science research team to:
- Replicate this study with a larger number of research participants (to help confirm and extend the results of the first study)
- Examine potential genetic differences between various types of psychic ability, such as mediumship or precognition
Cohn, S. A. (1994). A survey on Scottish second sight. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 59(835), 385–400.
Cohn, S. A. (1999). Second sight and family history: Pedigree and segregation analyses. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 13(3), 351–372.
Wahbeh, H., McDermott, K., & Sagher, A. (2018). Dissociative Symptoms and Anomalous Information Reception. Activitas Nervosa Superior, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41470-018-0023-6
Wahbeh, H., Radin, D., Mossbridge, J., Vieten, C., & Delorme, A. (2018). Exceptional experiences reported by scientists and engineers. Explore, 14(5), 329–341. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2018.05.002
Wahbeh, H., Radin, D., Yount, G., Woodley of Menie, M. A., Sarraf, M. A., & Karpuj, M. V. (2021). Genetics of psychic ability—A pilot case-control exome sequencing study. EXPLORE. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2021.02.014