How many times did you find yourself anticipating a certain event shortly before it happened? Whether you guessed someone is going to look towards you before it happened or you immediately head to catch a bottle just as it begins to fall off a table, your subconscious seems to dictate actions, while your conscious psyche remains puzzled to as what triggered these actions. Some call it intuition, researchers at Northwestern University call it “anomalous anticipatory activity”.
It’s rather common for humans to anticipate an impending storm just by looking at cloud formations and sensing the wetness in the air, but this can’t be classed as precognition per se, according to the researchers, since the conclusion is based on sensory cues. The scientists note in a new meta-study based on an analysis of the results of 26 studies published between 1978 and 2010, that even without obvious sensory cues, the human body is able to react preemptively.
“Physiological measures of subconscious arousal, for instance, tend to show up before conscious awareness,” explained the review’s lead author Julia Mossbridge. “What hasn’t been clear is whether humans have the ability to predict future important events even without any clues as to what might happen.”
How can you explain instinct?
The studies compiled by the authors examined various events such as presentations of arousing versus neutral stimuli or guessing games with correct vs incorrect feedback. The results weren’t measured by the actual verbal or action based input from the part of the volunteers but in physical activity of the skin, heart, blood, eyes and brain. The findings across most of the studies seem to be consistent with the idea that humans, like other animals most likely, can subconsciously anticipate events, despite they can’t consciously express these future occurrences.
“I like to call the phenomenon ‘anomalous anticipatory activity,'” Mossbridge said. “The phenomenon is anomalous, some scientists argue, because we can’t explain it using present-day understanding about how biology works; though explanations related to recent quantum biological findings could potentially make sense. It’s anticipatory because it seems to predict future physiological changes in response to an important event without any known clues, and it’s an activity because it consists of changes in the cardiopulmonary, skin and nervous systems.”
Mossbridge offers an example of one such study scenario, in which a man playing video games and wearing headphones at work shouldn’t be able to tell when a supervisor comes around the corner.
“But our analysis suggests that if you were tuned into your body, you might be able to detect these anticipatory changes between two and 10 seconds beforehand and close your video game,” she explained. “You might even have a chance to open that spreadsheet you were supposed to be working on. And if you were lucky, you could do all this before your boss entered the room.”
The researchers are far from claiming humans can sense the future, however they do conclude that the presentiment phenomenon is very much real, though still unexplained.
“If this seemingly anomalous anticipatory activity is real, it should be possible to replicate it in multiple independent laboratories,” she and her co-authors write. “The cause of this anticipatory activity, which undoubtedly lies within the realm of natural physical processes (as opposed to supernatural or paranormal ones), remains to be determined.”
Findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Perception Science.