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Doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2005.03.060

Neuroscience Letters 380 (2005) 346–347 A response to Granqvist et al. “Sensed presence and mys-
We are assuming that they followed our usual protocol and tical experiences are predicted by suggestibility, not by
verified the presence of the field and the appropriate acoustic the application of transcranial weak magnetic fields”
signature (timing) of the field before each subject. If thiswas followed, there are three possible explanations for the discrepancy between the results of our multiple studies over20 years involving dozens of experimenters and the results of We have read Granqvist et al.’s article “Sensed Granqvist et al. of these possibilities assume that there presence and mystical experiences are predicted by sug- are no nuances in local geomagnetic or structurally recondite gestibility, not by the application of transcranial weak com- factors, at present not measured, that are responsible for the plex magnetic fields”. Double blind studies are essential when exploring these phenomena. In all of our major stud- First, the software we gave them to generate the magnetic ies volving more than 400 subjects during the field configurations was designed for XT and 286 IBM PCs last 20 years the subjects were not aware of their experimen- using DOS. Specific calibration programs are required when tal conditions and experimenters were not familiar with the more advanced PCs or WINDOWS is employed. Faster com- hypotheses being tested or both were not aware of the exper- puters and WINDOWS in particular distort the timing of the imental condition. Subjects had volunteered for “memory” point durations and disconfigure the temporal patterns of the or “relaxation” studies and were randomly or serially allo- applied magnetic fields real time values for the cated to conditions. The “sensed presence” issue was never point durations are critical in this research For discussed. The person generating the hypothesis never had example, even the “Thomas” pattern, when presented in the reversed temporal sequence, is less effective for producing These precautions are essential because application of spe- the sensed presence. In several rat studies potency of cific patterns of weak (1 ␮T at distances equivalent to intrac- analgesia from these applied fields can be eliminated, similar erebral space) complex magnetic fields over the right hemi- to changing the impact of a drug by changing the position of sphere enhances suggestibility We have repeatedly em- an atom, by subtle changes in timing.
phasized the importance of the context and the participants’ Second, Larsson and his colleagues had told us in 2000 beliefs, expectancies, and temporal lobe “sensitivities” with when they visited the lab that they would be employing the respect to how they interpret the experiences once they have equipment to discern the effects of weak magnetic fields for been elicited by the experimental fields Although we a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) study. Exposure for applaud the enthusiasm of Granqvist et al. replicate our 15 min to a particular pattern was suggested for this context, research, their methodology deviated significantly from the not for a phenomenological or experiential study. Both our procedures known to evoke an experimental sensed presence.
rat and human studies indicate that exposures of between The mean and standard deviation for the score for the in- 20 and 40 min are required for maximum response to weak cidence of sensed presence for the Granqvist et al. magnetic fields time required for electroen- for both their experimental (magnetic field) and sham groups cephalographic changes, such as altered proportions in alpha (M = 0.3, S.D. = 0.5 and M = 0.3, S.D. = 0.5) were identical rhythms or “entrainment” requires more than 15 min of ex- to scores for sham field groups in our studies (M = 0.3, S.D. = 0.5). The mean scores for this scale when the appro- Third, our basic protocol is for the subject to be blind- priate fields are applied are 0.8 or higher. The likelihood that folded and to sit in a comfortable arm chair that is housed Swedish and Canadian students differ in their temporal lobe within a completely darkened acoustic chamber (which sensitivity is minimum because the equivalent scores for the is also a grounded Faraday cage with the dimensions former were .34 (10.3/30) and for the Canadians (n = 1500 2.74 m × 2.54 m × 1.98 m, high). The authors did not indi- over a 20-year period) have been 0.32 (S.D. = .15). We sug- cate the instructions given to the subjects. Our instructions gest the subjects in their experimental group never received always emphasize that the phenomena are subtle and request the subject to just experience whatever happens without la- 0304-3940/$ – see front matter 2005 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2005.03.060 Letter to the Editor / Neuroscience Letters 380 (2005) 346–347 belling the experiences. Although our subjects’ ratings of ex- [7] S.A. Koren, M.A. Persinger, Possible disruption of remote view- otic beliefs and temporal lobe sensitivities were moderately ing by complex weak magnetic fields around the stimulus site and correlated (rhos between .40 and .45) with lifetime histories the possibility of accessing real phase space: a pilot study, Percept.
Motor Skills 95 (2002) 989–998.
of experiencing a sensed presence as discerned by question- [8] L.J. Martin, S.A. Koren, M.A. Persinger, Thermal analgesic effects naires completed during lecture periods two to four months from weak, complex magnetic fields and pharmacological interac- before the experiments, these variables were not significantly tions, Pharm. Biochem. Behav. 78 (2004) 217–227.
correlated with the occurrence of sensed presences within [9] M.A. Persinger, Increased emergence of alpha activity over the left the chamber during either sham field or magnetic field con- but not the right temporal lobe within a dark acoustic chamber:differential response to the left but not the right hemisphere to tran- ditions. The critical factor for the experience of powerful scerebral magnetic fields, Int. J. Psychophysiol. 34 (1999) 163–169.
sensed presences was the generation of the appropriate con- [10] M.A. Persinger, The neuropsychiatry of paranormal experiences, J.
figuration of transcerebral magnetic fields.
Neuropsychiatry Clin. Neurosci. 13 (2001) 515–524.
We congratulate our colleagues in Sweden for the courage [11] M.A. Persinger, The sensed presence within experimental settings: to begin the steps to replicate experiments that may allow implications for the male and female concept of self, J. Psychol. 137(2003) 5–16.
neuroscience to systematically explore experiences hereto [12] M.A. Persinger, F. Healey, Experimental facilitation of the sensed attributed to mystical or religious sources. However, the im- presence: possible intercalation between the hemispheres induced portance of replicating the specific timing and pattern of the by complex magnetic fields, J. Nervous Mental Dis. 190 (2002) magnetic field is as critical in this area of science as care- fully adhering to the steps of synthesizing a compound is in [13] M.A. Persinger, P.M. Richards, S.A. Koren, Differential entrainment of electroencephalographic activity by weak complex electromag- netic fields, Percept. Motor Skills 85 (1997) 527–536.
[14] M.A. Persinger, S.G. Tiller, S.A. Koren, Experimental simulation of a haunt experience and elicitation of paroxysmal electroencephalo- References
graphic activity by transcerebral complex magnetic fields: inductionof a synthetic “ghost”? Percept. Motor Skills 90 (2000) 659–674.
[15] P.M. Richards, S.A. Koren, M.A. Persinger, Experimental stimulation [1] L. Baker-Price, M.A. Persinger, Weak but complex pulsed magnetic by burst-firing weak magnetic fields over the right temporal lobe may fields may reduce depression following traumatic brain injury, Per- facilitate apprehension in women, Percept. Motor Skills 75 (1992) cept. Motor Skills 83 (1996) 491–498.
[2] L. Baker-Price, M.A. Persinger, Intermittent bust-firing weak (1 mi- [16] L. Sculthorpe, M.A. Persinger, Does phase-modulation of applied croTesla) magnetic fields reduce psychometric depression in patients 40 Hz transcerebral magnetic fields affect subjective experiences and who sustained closed head injuries: a replication and electroen- hypnotic induction? Percept. Motor Skills 97 (2003) 1031–1037.
cephalographic validation, Percept. Motor Skills 96 (2003) 965–974.
[17] S.G. Tiller, M.A. Persinger, Geophysical variables and behavior: [3] J.N. Booth, S.A. Koren, M.A. Persinger, Increased proportions of XCVII. Increased proportions of left-sided sense of presence in- sensed presences and occipital spikes with 1- and 10-ms point du- duced experimentally by right hemispheric application of spe- rations of continuous 7-Hz transcerebral magnetic fields, Percept.
cific (frequency-modulated) complex magnetic fields, Percept. Motor [4] C.M. Cook, M.A. Persinger, Geophysical variables and behavior: XCII. Experimental elicitation of the experience of a sentient beingby right hemispheric, weak magnetic fields: interaction with temporal lobe sensitivity, Percept. Motor Skills 92 (2001) 447–448.
[5] N.P. Granqvist, M. Fredrikson, P. Unge, A. Hagenfeldt, S. Valid, D.
Larhammar, M. Larsson, Sensed presence and mystical experiences Behavioral Neuroscience Research Group are predicted by suggestibility, not the application of transcranial Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ont., Canada P3E 2C6 weak complex magnetic fields, Neurosci. Lett.
∗Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 705 675 4824 [6] F. Healey, M.A. Persinger, S.A. Koren, Enhanced hypnotic sug- gestibility following application of burst-firing magnetic fields overthe right temporoparietal lobes: a replication, Int. J. Neurosci. 87 E-mail address: mpersinger@laurentian.ca Neuroscience Letters 380 (2005) 348–350 Reply to M.A. Persinger and S. A. Koren’s response to
abilities distorted by the applied fields depending on which Granqvist et al. “Sensed presence and mystical experi-
operating system was used. To the best of our knowledge, ences are predicted by suggestibility,not by the applica-
“remote viewing” still awaits sound scientific verification.
tion of transcranial weak magnetic fields”
Moreover, its relation to the sensed presence experience isunclear.
Concerning room size, our chamber was 2 m× 2 m (i.e., 4 m2, not 2 m2 as erroneously described in our article), Our team entered this field with the expectation that marginally smaller than Persinger’s. As the participants were we would be able to reproduce previous results on sensed blindfolded throughout the exposures also in our study, we presence and similar experiences resulting from weak regard the idea of an influence of room size as far-fetched magnetic fields applied over the temporal lobe by Persinger and confusing. Furthermore, the plan was to utilize the de- and colleagues. Our intention was to use PET to elucidate vice in PET studies, in which case it would have had to be the regional blood flow changes associated with sensed used in a much larger room containing the PET instrument, presence induced by the so-called “Persinger helmet”. To but Persinger never expressed any concerns about this.
be able to analyze regional blood flow changes we had to Regarding double-blindness, which we believe to be the be sure of the phenomenological effects of the device. We most important reason for the different results between our performed a thorough pilot study (N = 89) with equipment laboratories, we have not read all of the several hundred arti- and software provided by Persinger’s group.
cles published by Persinger in this and related areas. However, Two of us (D. Larhammar and M. Larsson) visited Lau- we have carefully checked the methodological descriptions rentian University (Sudbury, Canada), where Persinger and of the studies that were cited in the response by Persinger Koren demonstrated the equipment to us. A portable version as representing truly double-blind procedures. As far as we of the device was then kindly sent to us. To ensure that the can judge, none of them was double-blind according to the unit complied with health regulations for the generated fields, conventional definition of the term, namely an experiment in we performed magnetic field measurements with the aid of which (1) neither the experimental subject (2) nor the person radiophysics expertise, which verified field strengths in the administering treatment knows which treatment any partic- magnitude of 1–10 ␮T both before and after the study. For ular subject is receiving Hence, whether or not exper- verification of function before each session, we relied on the imenters know about the hypotheses being tested is in our diode system that represents the output of the digital to ana- view irrelevant according to this definition (although appar- logue converter as described in the instruction manual ently emphasized as important by Persinger) because double- Regarding the software, we were given the information by blindness precludes the possibility of selective interaction Persinger and Koren that the program version we received, with participants across conditions.
Complex v.1.5 (inadvertently called 1.15 in our article) could What is relevant, though, is what Persinger proceeds to be used with faster PC’s provided that a calibration procedure claim, namely that “both (i.e., the experimenter and the sub- was followed This was consequently undertaken with jects) were not aware of the experimental condition”. He does the included calibration software. Moreover, Persinger has not specify which of the five articles cited (four of which been informed that calibration was indeed performed (e-mail were empirical studies, one a review) that would meet both communication, November 27, 2004). We used a DOS-based of these criteria at the same time. A close inspection of the operating system (Windows 95) and the program ran stably methodological descriptions shows that none of them does, in a DOS shell. The reference Persinger cites as showing that rendering Persinger’s claim inaccurate at best. Let us give faster computers and more advanced operating systems alter two examples: First, his reference 11 was not a between- the temporal signature of the fields and their phenomenolog- group experiment, i.e., participants were not randomly as- ical effects [Ref. 7 in the letter by Persinger and Koren] refer signed to different treatments. All participants were given to a single case study (N = 1), in which a “medium” with re- the same treatments, and were then compared based on sex mote viewing capability had his claimed “remote viewing” and handedness. Hence, this is an example of a correlational 0304-3940/$ – see front matter 2005 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2005.03.059 Letter to the Editor / Neuroscience Letters 380 (2005) 348–350 study (or at best a “quasi-experiment”). Of course, double- study, 2 × 15 min exposures would be sufficient to evoke blindness cannot possibly have been achieved here. Second, blood flow changes in the relevant brain regions, whereas his reference 12 is a between-group experiment. However, an additional 2 × 5 min would be required to generate the according to the method description, there was only one ex- experience that we wished to monitor in the PET study.
perimenter present. Hence, she was supposedly responsible We have an additional comment regarding the magnetic both for interacting with the participants and for experimen- field device. After our results had been accepted for publica- tal condition assignment (i.e., giving left, right, bilateral, or tion in Neuroscience Letters, we notified Persinger about the sham-field stimulation). If this was the case, she must have results. Our groups have since then been exchanging emails, been aware of which condition the participants were assigned from Persinger’s side mostly concerning possible method- ological errors on our part that would account for our null Unless randomization to conditions is pre-programmed, in result. In one email Persinger stated that the unit he had sent double-blind experiments, it is necessary to have two exper- to us was a portable version of the original equipment with imenters: One who is blind to condition (the one interacting slightly different properties than the original unit, as the unit with the participants) and one who randomly assigns the par- sent to us had been optimized for a PET study. To us, how- ticipants to different conditions (who must not interact with ever, it seems clear that the unit must still have been expected the participants in any way). None of the studies cited by to induce the sensed presence or similar experiences as this Persinger followed such a protocol, whereas ours did.
was the phenomenon to be studied by PET. This statement The reason we would give some weight to this design dif- about the equipment came to us as quite a surprise. We would ference between our studies is that double-blindness, as con- never have ventured on this rather large and technically com- ventionally defined, is often a requirement for experimental plicated double-blind study if we would have had the least studies published in medical and psychology journals. Need- indication that the unit would not strictly function as intended.
less to say, there are good reasons for such a design require- Has the type of unit we received been evaluated for efficacy ment, the most important being that selective interaction and by Persinger and colleagues? We, of course, assume this has other potentially placebo-producing effects explain a large been the case. Furthermore, all physical measurements of the part of the variance allegedly accounted for by a given treat- device that we conducted were consistent with functionality.
ment, as noted in a recent editorial in Science Of relevance to emphasize again is that we did indeed plan This is where our concerns about suggestibility originally to perform a PET study, because we had a sincere interest arose, and was subsequently supported by our data. Some in the results presented by Persinger and collaborators over people are notoriously prone to pick up and respond to cues several years. This means that if we were biased in any di- from experimenters. This has been shown for individuals rection, it would have been towards obtaining similar results scoring high on absorption to mind-altering experiences to Persinger’s. However, we felt compelled to rectify what (Recall that the participants in our study who indicated mys- we perceived to be the design weaknesses of the previous tical and somatosensory experiences also were high on this studies before embarking on a costly and complicated PET trait as well as on new age spirituality.) study. These changes in experimental design have forced us Therefore, in future replications in this area, employment to conclude that the weak magnetic fields do not contribute of a truly double-blind design will be required to test our to the subjective experiences, at least until a causative role is interpretation that individual differences in suggestibility is convincingly demonstrated in double-blind experiments.
involved. Until then, and regardless of the number of studies Let us jointly hope that science will march on, and that ad- performed in the past, we think the burden of proof should fall ditional double-blind replications of Persinger’s studies will upon those who have not used a truly double-blind design.
be undertaken by independent research groups in the near Regarding the duration time of the magnetic fields future. We will be delighted to share our experiences with (i.e., 15 min versus 20 min of each configuration: the designing a double-blind protocol if such studies are to be “Thomas field” and the “burst field”), Persinger initially recommended 15–20 min exposure with each configuration(personal communication, April, 2001, by e-mail). In thatcommunication, he also claimed that, following the burst References
exposure, “a presence will be experienced in the remaining [1] P. Bateson, Editorial: desirable scientific conduct, Science 307 (2005) individuals” (i.e., those who had not already had a sensed presence experience). Of course, it was very surprising for [2] Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 28th ed., W.B. Saunders us to learn, after Persinger had read our paper showing Company, Philadelphia, USA, 1994, p. 505.
null-results from 2 × 15 min exposures, that 20 min are now [3] S.A. Koren, M.A. Persinger, Instruction Manual: Complex Digital required to evoke a sensed presence. However, according to Analogue (DAC) Converter System Including Integrated 4 CannelCommutator and ComplexSoftware, 1998, Behavioral Neuroscience to his letter this is what is required for maximum response.
Laboratory, Laurentian University, Sudbury, Canada.
Regardless, the participants in our study who were exposed [4] A. Tellegen, G. Atkinson, Openness to absorbing and self-altering to the active field condition received a total exposure of experiences (“absorption”), a trait related to hypnotic susceptibility, 30 min (2 × 15). Also, we fail to comprehend why, in a PET J. Abnorm. Psychol. 83 (1974) 268–277.
Letter to the Editor / Neuroscience Letters 380 (2005) 348–350 Childrens Hospital, Lund University Hospital Department of Psychology, Uppsala University P.O. Box 1225, SE-751 42 Uppsala, Sweden E-mail addresses: marcus.larsson@stemcell.lu.se Unit of Pharmacology, Uppsala University (M. Larsson), pehr.granqvist@psyk.uu.se (P. Granqvist)

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