Ouija and the Ideomotor Effect: When Implicit Memory Turns Explicit.
JHelene Gauchou, Ronald A. Rensink, and Sid Fels, University of British Columbia

Abstracts of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. [ASSC 14; Toronto, ON Canada. Jun 2010.]

The ideomotor effect (Carpenter, 1852) is the production of actions that are unconsciously initiated, strongly associated with a loss of the sense of agency, and convey a thought rather than respond to sensory stimulation. A commonly known example of this is the Ouija game. Here, a movable indicator (planchette) is placed upon a flat board marked with letters, numbers, and the words “yes” and “no”. Players ask a question, position their fingers on the planchette and follow it as it moves about the board to spell out messages. Two important characteristics of Ouija are the absence of a sense of agency, and the meaningfulness of the answers. We propose using Ouija to explore the ideomotor effect--in particular, to determine if meaningful answers can be obtained in the absence of conscious thought.

In this presentation we describe the results of a preliminary study comparing access to semantic long term memory with and without the use of a Ouija board. In the Non-Ouija condition participants answer questions by “yes” or “no” according to what they think, and rate the confidence level of their response. In the Ouija condition they are presented with the same questions but use the Ouija board, following the planchette when it moves toward the “yes” or “no” answer without interfering with its movement. A necessary condition for the ideomotor effect is that the player attributes the origin of the movement to an external source. To accomplish this, each participant is paired with an experimenter pretending to be another participant. The real participant is then blindfolded, so he cannot see that he is the only one touching the planchette. Performance is then analyzed as a function of the conditions (Ouija / Non-Ouija) and confidence level. Preliminary results indicate that in the Non-Ouija condition participants guess the percentage of correct answers at chance levels; when the same questions are answered with the Ouija board the percentage of correct answers significantly increases.

This suggests that ideomotor effect may be useful in determining the contents of implicit memory.

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