In The Mind And Interpersonal Psi
Much spontaneous psi is
concerned with interpersonal and emotional themes. Some but not all
experimenters have found that attention to such themes improves performance on
objective tests. This study explores the nature of the psychological boundaries
related to subjective perception of success in interpersonal psychic
training exercises. Self-rated success on the exercises was correlated r(67)
= .48 (p < .001) with the Hartmann (1991) Boundaries Questionnaire, r(67)
= .40 (p < .001) with the Richards (1990) scale of psychic
experiences, and r(67) = .35 (p < .01) with a measure of
positive affect (Watson, Clark & Tellegen, 1988). A multiple regression
using these three variables as predictors of subjective success gave an r2
of .34. Thus "thin" boundaries, characterized by unusual empathy and
fluidity of thoughts and feelings, along with previous psychic experiences and a
general positive emotional state, are good predictors of a subjective sense of
success. Similar variables are predictive of success on objective measures of
psi, e.g., the ganzfeld.
In The Mind And Interpersonal Psi
Much spontaneous psi is
concerned with interpersonal and emotional themes. Case collections have shown
that spontaneous psi is much more likely to be reported among intimates than
among strangers or acquaintances (Rhine, 1981; Stevenson, 1970).
This observation has occasionally been used in the design of experimental
studies. For example, deliberate inclusion of an emotional component in the
Maimonides dream telepathy experiments (Ullman, Krippner & Vaughan, 1973)
yielded positive results. Honorton et al. (1990) found that friends do better as
partners in ESP experiments than do strangers. Braud, Shafer and Andrews (1993)
found that "connectedness training" had an effect on the detection of
remote staring. Reed (1994) has reviewed studies exploring the relationship of
intimacy to psi, and concluded "Intimacy and telepathy may be natural
partners" (p. 353). On the other hand, people tend to resist too much
intimacy. Their resistance is reflected in the common fear of psi, even among
people who are intentionally trying to develop their psychic ability (Tart,
This study explores the
nature of the psychological boundaries related to subjective perception of
success in interpersonal psychic training exercises. The exercises were
performed in the context of a training program in which professional psychics
offered their advice for increasing psychic sensitivity.
Many researchers have
examined the psychology of belief in psychic phenomena in regard to
cognitive and personality characteristics (e.g., review by Irwin, 1993). Some
studies have attempted to manipulate belief in psi (e.g., Smith, Foster, &
Stovin, 1995). In such studies the manipulation is typically brief (e.g., a
short lecture by the experimenter or a written statement), and is unlikely to
affect deeply held beliefs. Other studies simply attempt to assess belief based
on questionnaires, without manipulation. The context in which these experiments
are carried out could affect the way in which the subjects complete measures of
belief in psi (Irwin, 1991). Neither methodology separates experience from
Here I have taken a
population, all of whom have a high belief in psi and a desire to
experience it (as shown by their willingness to invest several hundred dollars
and a week of time in a psychic training program). I am addressing the question
of whether there are psychological characteristics that can predict the degree
to which people will feel they have actually experienced psi, given the
pre-existing belief and desire.
The psychic development
training was based on Henry Reed's (1994) concept of the importance of
psychological intimacy to psi, and was led by Reed and several professional
psychics. People desire an optimal amount of intimacy; too little and we feel
lonely and isolated; too much and we feel invaded or engulfed. Like all
personality traits, the optimal amount of intimacy desired varies widely within
the population. I hypothesized that the subjective sense of success at psi tasks
within an interpersonal psi context would depend on the natural level of
psychological boundaries in the subjects. At the same time, I was interested in
whether a subject's general emotional qualities influenced the interpretation of
material flowing across boundaries and the sense of success.
I had the subjects self-rate
subjective success in a variety of psychic development exercises. The exercises
were intended to rapidly facilitate a form of intimacy conducive to psi. An
example of the type of exercise used in the conference is the "Getting To
Know You" game developed by Reed (1994). The game involves a group of 6-8
people sitting in a circle. A "target person" in the group reads aloud
a standard script (e.g., reciting the alphabet or counting backwards from 49).
The members of the group are asked to "deeply feel" the voice, not
consciously analyze the voice quality.
After the target person has
completed the recitation, the people in the group describe what they
experienced. Reed instructs them to make a special effort to report their raw
experience without interpreting, judging, or analyzing it first. The target
person then responds with a reaction to each listener's comments. Typically the
participants enthusiastically agree that a "psychic" event - a direct
mind-to-mind connection - has occurred. Yet also typically they cannot
distinguish subjective inner experiences from objective impressions of the
target person. Thus the estimate of success in the psi task appears not to come
from inner discernment ("I know this is about the target
person"), but more commonly from external feedback ("She said my
imagery relates to her issues").
Concept of Boundaries
How might we measure the
tendency to experience psychological closeness, and could this be a predictor of
subjective success at interpersonal psi? From his research on sleep and
dreaming, Ernest Hartmann (1991) developed a questionnaire to explore
"boundaries in the mind." Hartmann described two extremes of
personality: those people with "thin" boundaries and those with
"thick" boundaries. People with thin boundaries are unusually
empathic, unusually open in psychological interviews, become quickly and
intensely involved in relationships, and have a fluidity of thoughts and
feelings. He refers to them as "undefended" in the psychoanalytic
sense; they generally tend not to have the defense mechanisms people use to keep
uncomfortable material out of conscious awareness. "Everything in their
minds seemed to flow together. They did not separate things out, nor did they
have barriers or walls to separate themselves from the world" (Hartmann,
1991, p. 16). Those with thick boundaries, on the other hand, are closed,
defended, solid, and "full of walls."
The description of a person
with thin boundaries sounds like someone who would be likely to rapidly develop
intimacy and to exhibit interpersonal psi. With thin, permeable boundaries, such
a person should be sensitive to subtle psychic impressions, if they are present.
To measure the personality
traits of thin and thick boundaries, Hartmann developed the Boundary
Questionnaire, a 145-item pencil and paper inventory of experiences related to
boundaries, divided into 12 categories. Table 1 gives examples of items in each
Simply having thin
boundaries may not be enough to result in a feeling of success in psychic
training exercises. Hartmann notes that some people with thin boundaries can be
overwhelmed by relationships and easily hurt emotionally. I hypothesized that
another factor might be involved: general affect - the emotional qualities of
the person. Those people with both thin boundaries and a generally positive
emotional outlook would be most likely to report success in these exercises.
The subjects were attendees
at a "Psychic Development Training & Research Project" conference,
led by Henry Reed, at the Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) in
Virginia Beach. From 86 initial volunteers, 67 submitted completed
questionnaires, including the final assessment of success in training (see
below). The mean age of the subjects was 49.0 (SD = 12.0) years, and the sex
distribution was 18.8% male and 81.2% female. This is roughly the same as in
other studies of this population conducted by Kohr (1980) and Richards (1990a,b,
The Hartmann Boundary
Questionnaire. The Hartmann (1991) Boundary Questionnaire is the 145-item
questionnaire described above. The scale yields a total "SumBound"
score, and scores on the individual categories. High scores indicate the
"thin" direction. The range of possible scores is from 0 to 580. The
overall scale has an alpha reliability of .93.
Scale. Previous psychic experiences were measured using the Psychic
Experiences Scale developed by Richards (1990b). This scale consists of 7 items
reflecting major categories of psychic experiences. The range of possible scores
is from 7 to 21. The scale has an alpha reliability of .59.
The Positive and Negative
Affect Schedules (PANAS). General affect was measured using the Positive and
Negative Affect Schedules (PANAS), a one-page, twenty-item measure, requiring
endorsement, on a five-point scale, of adjectives such as
"enthusiastic," "excited," "angry," and
"irritable" (Watson, Clark & Tellegen, 1988). The range of
possible scores on each of the two scales is 5 to 50. Watson et al. report an
alpha reliability of .88 for the positive affect (PA) scale and .87 for the
negative affect (NA) scale. They
have shown that their concepts of positive and negative affect correspond
closely to the traits termed "extraversion" and
"anxiety/neuroticism" in many other studies. These scales are a
convenient measure of affect, and were used in the Richards (1991) study of
psychic experiences and dissociation.
of Subjective Success in Psi Training
The conference included a
number of practice exercises, associated with each lecturer's presentation. For
example, one exercise was Reed's (1994) "Getting To Know You Game,"
described above. Another involved psychometry - reading someone by holding an
object belonging to them. Another exercise was the "Dream Helper
Ceremony" (Reed and Van De Castle, 1991), in which the participants attempt
to have dreams with psi to help a person with problems. The emphasis in all
exercises was on interpersonal psi, in contrast to remote viewing of scenic
locations or PK on random event generators. The training was a sincere attempt
on the part of the psychics to create an atmosphere where actual psi could
manifest. A conscious effort was made to avoid "cold reading," i.e.,
the deliberate use of sensory cues and universally applicable statements of
personality characteristics (cf., Hyman, 1977). However, there were no controls
for sensory leakage, or for the possible tendency of the target persons to
please the participants by coming up with matches.
For each exercise, the
subjects were asked to rate their subjective sense of how well they did on that
exercise, on a 9-point scale, with 1 being "No ESP at all" and 9 being
"A great deal of ESP." There was no attempt to objectively measure
psi; the rating is entirely subjective.
Subjects could participate
in a maximum of 11 exercises. Not all subjects participated in all exercises.
The score for subjective success in psychic training for each subject was the
mean rating of success in the exercises done by that subject, and ranged from 1
The conference had been
advertised as a week-long "Psychic Development Training and Research
Project," so the attendees were already aware that they had the option (but
not the requirement) of participating in a research project. The researcher
administered the personality/experiences measures to the subjects at the
beginning of the conference. The researcher explained that the project involved
the psychology of psychic perception, but did not discuss the specific
hypotheses. The questionnaires were administered anonymously; each subject was
assigned a number, and they were asked not to include their names. At the end of
the week, a two-page questionnaire on subjective success was handed out. Only
subjects who completed both the initial and final questionnaires were included
in the data analysis. To minimize experimenter effects, the researcher was not
involved in or present during the psychic training exercises and completion of
The correlation matrix for
the five measures is given in Table 2, with the means and standard deviations in
Table 3. The subjective sense of
success in training (Success) and the Psychic Experiences Scale (PsiExp) were
significantly correlated with the sum of the boundaries items (SumBound) (p
< .001). Positive Affect (PA) was also correlated with Success (p <
Table 4 gives the results of
a stepwise multiple regression with Success as the dependent variable, and
SumBound, PsiExp and PA as the independent variables. The regression as a whole
was significant (F (3, 64) = 10.95, p < .001), and each independent
variable made a contribution to predicting the dependent variable (total r2
When correlations of Success
were done with the individual boundaries subscales, however, only some of the
subscales showed significant correlations (Table 5). The significant
correlations (p < .01) were all with the subscales in the
experiential/emotional group, rather than those in the cognitive/intellectual
group. The experiential/emotional subscales included Unusual Experiences (.49),
Thoughts/Feelings (.45), and Sensitivity (.38).
For PsiExp, the strongest
correlation, not surprisingly, was with the Unusual Experiences subscale (.61).
There was a weaker correlation with the Sleep/Wake/Dream subscale (.39).
Affect had no consistent
relationship to boundaries.
Affect was weakly positively correlated with SumBound; this correlation was due
to weak positive correlations in both categories of subscales. Negative Affect,
on the other hand, had much stronger correlations for some of the scales, but
they were in opposite directions, yielding an overall nonsignificant correlation
of r (67) =.05. None of the scales significantly correlated with Affect
were the same scales correlating with Success or PsiExp.
Thin boundaries, general
positive affect, and previous psychic experiences are good predictors of
subjective success in interpersonal psychic development exercises. Affect and
boundaries are not highly correlated, and make largely independent contributions
to success. Together, these three variables account for 34 percent of the
variance, a substantial amount.
The concept of boundaries,
however, does not appear to be as unitary as Hartmann (1991) suggests. For psi,
only the experiential/emotional subscales were relevant. The
cognitive/intellectual group, generally measuring beliefs relating to
boundaries rather than experiences, had no relationship to subjective
success in psychic exercises.
Thus subjective success is
not the same as "belief" in psi, an intellectual process. All of the
subjects believe enough in psi to spend several hundred dollars and a
week of their time in development of their psychic abilities. Yet despite their
shared belief, not all felt they had equal success. Interpersonal psi is an
emotional/experiential process, not a cognitive/intellectual process. Those who
have thin boundaries in the emotional sense feel they are more successful.
Honorton et al. (1986) have
reported similar results in a study looking at factors influencing objective
success in first-time performance in ganzfeld experiments. One of the weakest
predictors was self-rated belief in psi (a statistically suggestive
correlation of r = .189). Much more useful as a predictor was the number
of types of ESP experiences reported (r = .439). Another important
predictor was the Feeling/Thinking dimension of the Myers-Briggs Type
Indicator (MBTI). Feeling types exhibited strong ESP performance; Thinking
types scored at chance. My result suggests that thickness of boundaries is an
additional relevant dimension to Feeling. The cognitive/intellectual
boundaries related to Thinking were not not related to success. Finally,
Honorton et al. found that extraverts tended to prefer friends as senders, and
exhibited significantly more ESP in that condition. My measure of positive
affect, correlated in this study with subjective success, was shown by Watson et
al. (1988) to be very similar to extraversion as measured by the MBTI or the
Eysenck Personality Questionnaire.
There is an apparent
contradiction regarding the personality variables associated with both
subjective and objective psi. Numerous studies have shown that well-adjusted
extraverts tend to do well in objective tests (Thalbourne, 1981). On the other
hand, both belief in psi and subjective psychic experiences tend to be
correlated with personality variables often seen as pathological (Thalbourne
& Delin, 1994). Thalbourne and Delin found that belief in psi correlated
with the "magical ideation" characteristic of schizophrenia and with
both manic and depressive experiences (r ranging from about .2 to .6).
Richards (1991) found significant correlations of dissociation (characteristic
of multiple personality) with a variety of psychic experiences (r ranging
from about .3 to .4).
Hartmann (1991) has also
noted that thin boundaries often appear in conjunction with pathology. But he
makes it clear that he does not consider "thin boundaries" to be
another way of saying "vulnerable to psychological illness." Thin
boundaries can be adaptive - such traits as openness and creativity, as well as
sensitivity to interpersonal psi. Thin boundaries can also be maladaptive - such
traits as emotional vulnerability and becoming lost in fantasy.
To resolve the apparent
contradiction we need to bear in mind that even relatively high correlations
(e.g., r = .5) do not mean that two variables are identical. A
correlation of .5 still only accounts for 25% of the variance. The correlations
found by Thalbourne and Delin, and by Richards, mean that although there is a
relationship between psychic beliefs/experiences and certain measures usually
interpreted as pathological, a substantial number of people have these
experiences without any evidence of pathology.
Even those personality
traits often thought of as pathological may have positive interpretations.
Hartmann has looked at the Boundary Questionnaire in relation to the Minnesota
Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). The highest correlations with the
clinical subscales of the MMPI were .41 with the Paranoia scale (often
considered a measure of interpersonal sensitivity in nonclinical populations)
and .40 with the Masculinity/Femininity scale for males (in the feminine
direction, possibly reflecting greater empathy). The correlation with the
Schizophrenia scale was rather low (.25), indicating that having thin boundaries
is not equivalent to having intrusive boundary invasion.
In my study, in people who
have high positive affect, we see a high tolerance for thin boundaries.
These people, comfortable with their thin boundaries, are positive about their
psychic experiences. Such people are exhibiting the same characteristics that
Honorton et al. (1986) found useful in predicting success in the ganzfeld. There
is no reason to label their thin boundaries as pathological.
On the other hand people
with thin boundaries and high negative affect who come to a conference
like this are probably quite ambivalent or distressed about psi. They have had
spontaneous psychic experiences, but would like to gain some control over them.
They want to make their experiences less invasive, rather than further blurring
boundaries. Such people would probably not make good subjects for experiments in
interpersonal psi, despite their high levels of belief and experiences.
Is the concept of boundaries
relevant to objectively measured psi? Schmeidler and LeShan (1970) looked at a
similar construct, "body image," in relation to experimental ESP
scores. They used a Rorschach test scored with Fisher and Cleveland's (1958)
concepts of "barrier" and "penetration" as measures of
personality. In barrier responses, the subject conceptualizes his body as
surrounded by a protective covering, as contrasted with a permeable membrane
(penetration responses). Like the present study, the subjects were all
"sheep" - believers in ESP according to Schmeidler's criteria.
Subjects with higher ESP scores were significantly lower on barrier and higher
on penetration than those with lower ESP scores. Schmeidler and LeShan's result,
together with the convergence between the factors predictive of objective
success in the ganzfeld and the factors predictive of subjective success in
these interpersonal exercises, suggests that the boundaries concept should be
explored for use in experiments.
Subjective psi seems easy to
demonstrate in interpersonal settings like those discussed by Reed (1994). The
challenge is to design objective experiments that preserve the interpersonal
component and meaningful interactions for the participants, while at the same
time taking into account our ambivalent desires for intimacy. In the selection
of subjects, the interpersonal and emotional aspects of personality tapped by
the Boundaries Questionnaire, as well as the affective component of personality,
could play a useful role.
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of Items From the Hartmann Boundary Questionnaire
Sleep/wake/dream (14 items)
When I awake in the morning, I am not sure whether I am really awake for a few
Unusual experiences (19 items)
I have had deja vu experiences.
Thoughts, feelings, moods (16 items)
Sometimes I don't know whether I am thinking or feeling.
Childhood,adolescence, adulthood (6 items)
I am very close to my childhood feelings.
Interpersonal (15 items)
When I get involved with someone, we sometimes get too close.
Sensitivity (5 items)
I am very sensitive to other people's feelings.
Neat, exact, precise (11 items)
I keep my desk or worktable neat and well organized.
Edges, lines, clothing (20 items)
I like houses with flexible spaces, where you can shift things around and make
different uses of the same rooms.
Opinions about children and others (8 items)
I think a good teacher must remain in part a child.
Opinions about organizations (10 items)
In an organization, everyone should have a definite place and a specific role.
Opinions about people, nations, groups (14 items)
There are no sharp dividing lines between normal people, people with problems,
and people who are considered psychotic or crazy.
Opinions about beauty, truth (7 items)
Either you are telling the truth or you are lying; that's all there is to it.
Among Measures of Success, Experiences, and Personality (n = 67)
p < .001 ** p < .01
* p < .05
and Standard Deviations for Questionnaire Scales (n = 67)
Affect (PA) 38.5 6.9
Affect (NA) 17.7 5.8
of Multiple Regression with Success as Dependent Variable
Parameter Standardized Standard Seq.
(3,64) = 10.95 (p < .001)
of Success, Psychic Experiences, and Affect Measures
Subscales of the Boundaries Questionnaire (n = 67)
Childhood, Adolescence .21
Opinion: children .21
Opinion: organizations .17
p < .001 ** p < .01
* p < .05