Summary: A flaw in neural timing may explain why some people believe they have psychic abilities.
The line between reality and delusion may be just a matter of time, a new Yale study suggests.
Subjects with no history of mental illness were asked to predict which of five white squares would turn red and to report results to researchers. As expected, most reported guessing correctly one out of five times — until researchers sped up the test. If a square turned red within approximately 250 milliseconds, subjects were much more likely to say they predicted correctly. In reality they had simply predicted something that had already happened but had not consciously processed the experience.
According to the researchers, flaws in this neural timing mechanism may help explain why some people believe they are clairvoyant or mind readers: They may have already registered a person’s response before they were consciously aware of the experience. Indeed, researchers found that subjects who scored highly on a scale for delusion-like belief were more likely to say they accurately predicted the appearance of the red square, even in time frames greater than 250 milliseconds.
“It’s like thinking that you know it is about to rain, and then feeling the first drops,” said lead author and Yale psychologist Adam Bear. “Your thought may have been subconsciously influenced by those drops, yet you consciously experience them later.” The findings were reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Source: Bill Hathaway – Yale
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com images is adapted from the Yale news release.
Original Research: Abstract for “Mistiming of thought and perception predicts delusionality” by Adam Bear, Rebecca G. Fortgang, Michael V. Bronstein, and Tyrone D. Cannon in PNAS. Published online September 18 2017 doi:10.1073/pnas.1711383114
Mistiming of thought and perception predicts delusionality
The timing of thoughts and perceptions plays an essential role in belief formation. Just as people can experience in-the-moment perceptual illusions, however, they can also be deceived about how events unfold in time. Here, we consider how a particular type of temporal distortion, in which the apparent future influences “earlier” events in conscious awareness, might affect people’s most fundamental beliefs about themselves and the world. Making use of a task that has been shown to elicit such reversals in the temporal experience of prediction and observation, we find that people who are more prone to think that they predicted an event that they actually already observed are also more likely to report holding delusion-like beliefs. Moreover, this relationship appears to be specific to how people experience prediction and is not explained by domain-general deficits in temporal discrimination. These findings may help uncover low-level perceptual mechanisms underlying delusional belief or schizotypy more broadly and may ultimately prove useful as a tool for identifying those at risk for psychotic illness.
“Mistiming of thought and perception predicts delusionality” by Adam Bear, Rebecca G. Fortgang, Michael V. Bronstein, and Tyrone D. Cannon in PNAS. Published online September 18 2017 doi:10.1073/pnas.1711383114