Who’s Calling? Can We Accurately Guess Who is on the Phone?

October 5, 2023
IONS Science Team

Imagine this: you’re going about your day when suddenly, you think about a friend you have not spoken to in years. A few hours later, your smartphone rings and to your shock and delight, it’s your long-lost friend on the other end. This kind of experience has been dubbed “telephone telepathy,” a possible silent mind-to-mind connection that transcends the ordinary. 

Some of these experiences are undoubtedly due to a combination of coincidence, selective memory (i.e., remembering the times you correctly guessed the caller and forgetting times when you incorrectly guessed), and subconscious anticipation from knowing when certain people will call because you are familiar with their routines. However, a good amount of people, between ~37 – 78%, endorse “telephone telepathy.” 

While some may scoff, science is ever curious, seeking to understand even the most mysterious of phenomena. As such, there have been some controlled laboratory studies on telephone telepathy. However, the findings have been mixed, with some studies finding that callers could be correctly guessed above chance levels, while others could not. 

Telephone telepathy’s mechanism is also unknown, although there have been two hypotheses proposed. In the telepathic hypothesis, the callee knows who is calling them because the caller mentally “sends” information to the callee through intention beforehand. In the precognitive hypothesis, the callee knows who is calling them because they are perceiving that information from their own future. 

In a quest to unravel this enigmatic phenomenon, we conducted a study to examine telephone telepathy.

The study

In this study, we recruited 35 groups of three participants (triads) who were asked to guess who was calling them from the triad. To investigate telephone telepathy’s mechanism, we used half of the calls to test the telepathic hypothesis and half to test the precognition hypothesis. In the telepathic model, a web server randomly chose the caller and asked them to send the callee their positive intentions from the heart before the callee’s guess (pre-selected trials). In the precognitive model, a web server randomly chose the caller after the callee’s guess (post-selected trials). This way, telepathy can be ruled out at the time of the callee’s guess because the server hadn’t yet randomly chosen the caller.

Some telephone telepathy studies have shown that participants who are emotionally close to or more familiar with each other performed better. Thus, we also examined whether other factors play a role in how well a callee can guess who is calling, such as emotional closeness, physical distance, and genetic relatedness (e.g. unrelated, parent, aunt, great-grandparent), as well as how frequently they communicate. 

Telepathy or Precognition?

Were callees able to correctly guess who was calling them? In the telepathic condition when the caller directed their positive intention to the callee before the callee made their guess, the accuracy of who was calling was indeed above chance. Yet, the same was not true for the precognition model when the caller was selected after the guess. For those trials, the guesses were not above chance levels.

What about other factors? We did find that the higher the communication frequency between the caller and callee, the more often the caller was able to correctly guess the callee. However, physical distance did not affect the results. We also found that genetic relatedness and emotional closeness had mixed findings that need more research to tease apart what’s going on. 

What it means

The study’s results, particularly the telepathic/pre-selected trials where accuracy was significantly above chance, suggest that there might be more to human consciousness than our current scientific understanding. It supports the possibility of psi phenomena, which challenges conventional explanations and opens the door to further exploration of the human mind’s capabilities.

The study also indicates that communication frequency plays a role in the phenomenon. This implies that the strength of the connection between individuals, as measured by how often they communicate, might impact their ability to intuit who is calling. Understanding the relationship between communication patterns and consciousness could have broader implications for social and psychological research. Highlighting the ways that we are all interconnected could also drastically alter the ways we interact with each other.

These findings also underscore the complexity of human consciousness and its potential abilities. It suggests that consciousness might operate beyond our conventional understanding of time and space, hinting at a deeper layer of interconnectedness among individuals. It challenges our understanding of human consciousness and calls for a continued exploration of the mysteries that lie within the mind. While the implications are profound, they also serve as a reminder that the universe still holds many enigmas waiting to be unraveled by the curious minds of science.

Read the publication this blog is based on

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