- I will limit my comments on Rupert Sheldrake’s articles to two points, one specific and one general, both relating to his first article in which he reviews the available empirical literature on the alleged sense of being stared at.
- The specific point relates to the brief description provided by Sheldrake of an experiment carried out by Neal Rattee in 1996 under my supervision. As Sheldrake points out, Rattee’s results would have just reached statistical significance if a one-tailed test had been employed instead of a two-tailed test. Two questions that Sheldrake does not address are (a) whether or not a one-tailed test is appropriate in this case and (b) if it is, what is the direction of the predicted difference in skin conductance levels between the stare and non-stare trials?
- The second, more general, point I would like to make is one that is likely to have occurred to many readers of JCS. In discussing possible artefacts that might explain the ‘repeatable positive results’ in studies of the detection of unseen gaze, Sheldrake takes each in turn (e.g., sensory leakage, cheating, implicit learning) and attempts to dismiss each of them by pointing out that there are studies which have controlled for each effect and have still produced positive results. However, without a reasonable number of studies that produce positive results while controlling for all of these potential artefacts simultaneously, it is not possible to rule them out as possible causes of positive findings. A recent meta-analysis of remote staring studies by Schmidt et al. (2004) concluded that ‘there are hints of an effect, but also a shortage of independent replications and theoretical concepts’ (p. 235).More pertinent to the current discussion is their comment that ‘one has to be careful when interpreting the remote staring data because there is a lack of high-quality studies and such studies may reduce the overall effect size or even show that the effect does not exist’ (p. 245). Unless and until such studies have been carried out and reported, no definitive conclusions can be reasonably be drawn regarding the reality or otherwise of the alleged sense of being stared at. The positive results reported to date, however, provide a very strong justification for further and better quality investigations of this intriguing topic in the future.
Part of Open Peer Commentary on ‘The Sense of Being Stared At’ Parts 1 & 2
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)