Boundaries In The Mind And Interpersonal Psi

Douglas G. Richards

Atlantic University


     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.

Boundaries 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, 1986).

     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 beliefs.

     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.


Intimacy and Psi

     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").


Hartmann's 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 category.

     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, 1991).


Personality/Experiences Measures

     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.

     Psychic Experiences 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.


Measure 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 to 9.



     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 questionnaires.



     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 < .01).

     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 = .34).

     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.

Positive 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.



     Braud, W., Shafer, D., & Andrews, S. (1993). Reactions to an unseen gaze (remote attention): A review with new data on autonomic staring detection. Journal of Parapsychology, 57, 373-390.

     Fisher, S., & Cleveland, S. E. (1958). Body image and personality. Princeton: Van Nostrand.

     Hartmann, E. (1991). Boundaries in the mind. New York: Basic Books.

     Honorton, C., Barker, P., Varvoglis, M., Berger, R., & Schechter, E. (1986). First-timers: An exploration of factors affecting initial psi ganzfeld performance [summary]. In D. H. Weiner, & D. I. Radin (Eds.), Research in parapsychology 1985 (pp. 28-32). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

     Honorton, C., Berger, R., Varvoglis, M., Quant, M., Derr, P., Schechter, E. I., & Ferrari, D. C. (1990). Psi communication in the ganzfeld: Experiments with an automated testing system and a comparison with a meta-analysis of earlier studies. Journal of Parapsychology, 54, 99-139.

     Hyman, R. (1977). "Cold Reading": How to convince strangers that you know all about them. The Zetetic (Skeptical Inquirer), 1(2), 18-37.

     Kohr, R. (1980). A survey of psi experiences among members of a special population. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 74, 395-411.

     Reed, H. (1994). Intimacy and psi: A preliminary exploration. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 88, 327-360.

     Reed, H., & Van De Castle, R. L. (1991). The dream helper ceremony: A small group paradigm for transcendent psi. Theta, 16(1), 12-20.

     Rhine, L. E. (1981). The invisible picture: A study of psychic experiences. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

     Richards, D. G. (1990a). A "Universal Forces" dimension of locus of control in a population of spiritual seekers. Psychological Reports, 67, 847-850.

     Richards, D. G. (1990b). Hypnotic susceptibility and subjective psychic experiences. Journal of Parapsychology, 54, 35-51.

     Richards, D. G. (1991). A study of the correlations between subjective psychic experiences and dissociative experiences. Dissociation, 4, 83-91.

     Schmeidler, G. R., & LeShan, L. (1970). An aspect of body image related to ESP scores. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 64, 211-218.

     Stevenson, I. (1970). Telepathic impressions: A review and report of thirty-five new cases. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

     Tart, C. T. (1986). Psychics' fear of psychic powers. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 80, 279-292.

     Thalbourne, M. (1981). Extraversion and the sheep-goat variable: a conceptual replication. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 75, 105-119.

     Thalbourne, M. A., & Delin, P. S. (1994). A common thread underlying belief in the paranormal, creative personality, mystical experience and psychopathology. Journal of Parapsychology, 58, 3-38.

     Ullman, M., Krippner, S., with Vaughan, A. (1973). Dream telepathy: Experiments in nocturnal ESP. New York: Macmillan.

     Watson, D., Clark, L.A., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 1063-1070.



Table 1


Examples of Items From the Hartmann Boundary Questionnaire



1. Sleep/wake/dream (14 items)


Ex: When I awake in the morning, I am not sure whether I am really awake for a few minutes.


2. Unusual experiences (19 items)


Ex: I have had deja vu experiences.


3. Thoughts, feelings, moods (16 items)


Ex: Sometimes I don't know whether I am thinking or feeling.


4. Childhood,adolescence, adulthood (6 items)


Ex: I am very close to my childhood feelings.


5. Interpersonal (15 items)


Ex: When I get involved with someone, we sometimes get too close.


6. Sensitivity (5 items)


Ex: I am very sensitive to other people's feelings.


7. Neat, exact, precise (11 items)


Ex: I keep my desk or worktable neat and well organized.


8. Edges, lines, clothing (20 items)


Ex: I like houses with flexible spaces, where you can shift things around and make different uses of the same rooms.


9. Opinions about children and others (8 items)


Ex: I think a good teacher must remain in part a child.


10. Opinions about organizations (10 items)


Ex: In an organization, everyone should have a definite place and a specific role.


11. Opinions about people, nations, groups (14 items)


Ex: There are no sharp dividing lines between normal people, people with problems, and people who are considered psychotic or crazy.


12. Opinions about beauty, truth (7 items)


Ex: Either you are telling the truth or you are lying; that's all there is to it.



Table 2


Intercorrelations Among Measures of Success, Experiences, and Personality (n = 67)



Scale          Success     SumBound     PsiExp    PA       NA



Success          --      .48***     .40***    .35**     -.01


SumBound                   --      .42***    .25*      .05


PsiExp                               --      .18       -.03


Positive Affect (PA)                       --      -.45***


Negative Affect (NA)                                 --



*** p < .001 ** p < .01     * p < .05








Table 3


Means and Standard Deviations for Questionnaire Scales (n = 67)



Scale                    Mean       SD



Success                    6.0     1.9


SumBound                 305.0     45.4


PsiExp                   14.0     3.6


Positive Affect (PA) 38.5     6.9


Negative Affect (NA) 17.7     5.8





Table 4


Results of Multiple Regression with Success as Dependent Variable



Independent     Parameter      Standardized     Standard  Seq.      Simple

Variable       Estimate       Estimate       Error     r2         r2



SumBound       .01            .32            .01       .23       .23


PsiExp         .12            .23            .06       .29       .17


Positive Affect .07               .24            .03       .34       .14



F (3,64) = 10.95 (p < .001)


Table 5


Correlations of Success, Psychic Experiences, and Affect Measures

with Subscales of the Boundaries Questionnaire (n = 67)


                              Success     PsiExp    PA        NA



Sum Boundaries                    .48***     .42***    .25*      .05





1. Sleep/wake/dream              .27*      .31**    -.08      .17


2. Unusual experiences         .49***     .61***    .24       .22


3. Thoughts/feelings        .45***    .27*      .26*      .08


4. Childhood, Adolescence    .21       .21      -.05      .42**


5. Interpersonal            .19       .11       .31*     -.09


6. Sensitivity                   .38**     .17       .16       .19





7. Neat/exact                    .07       .19      -.03      .00


8. Edges/lines                   .27*      .22       .22      -.02


9. Opinion: children       .21       .03       .25*      .00


10. Opinion: organizations  .17       .05       .19      -.36**


11. Opinion: people              .22       .15       .09      -.19


12. Opinion: beauty              .11       .09       .16      -.36**




*** p < .001 ** p < .01     * p < .05