missing is one of the most startling discoveries of
modern parapsychology. At times, certain individuals
persist in giving the wrong answers in psi tests. The
accumulation of systematically wrong answers can be so
flagrant that it suggests something quite different than a
mere lack of psi abilities: it is as if people use psi to
consistently avoid the target, unconsciously "sabotaging"
their own results!
A number of different psychodynamics could conceivably
lead to psi missing, but one of the most solidly
established is quite simple: belief. In 1942, Gertrude
Schmeidler, professor of psychology at City University of
New York, set up a questionnaire to explore students'
beliefs about psi. She used the term "sheep" to refer to
those who were confident about the reality of psi and
"goats" for those who doubted its existence or its
pertinence in the context of the test. After the
questionnaire, she gave the students a classic psi test
with ESP cards in which they tried to guess sequences of
target- cards. Then Schmeidler compared the results of the
psi test and those of the questionnaire. The remarkable
conclusion was that the "sheep" had a significant
deviation above chance, while "goats" were significantly
This difference between believers and disbelievers, known
as the "sheep-goat effect," has been confirmed by many
other researchers. A meta-analysis by Lawrence (1992),
covering 73 experiments by 37 different researchers,
clearly confirms that subjects who believe in psi obtain,
on the average, higher results than those who do not
believe in it.
We all tend to select information which confirms our
beliefs and avoid that which seems not to fit with them.
Selective perception undoubtedly plays a role in our
interpretation of apparently paranormal experiences.
Skeptics are justified in stating that those who believe
firmly in psi will tend to see its occurrence everywhere,
even to the point of confusing their own interpretations
with the actual events. On the other hand, disbelievers
will also tend toward the complementary fallacy, always
finding some so-called "rational" explanation for a psi
experience, even when it happens to them. But the
sheep-goat effect suggests that the differences run deeper
than mere interpretation: one's attitudes toward psi
affects the likelihood that such phenomena will occur in
the first place. The more an individual harbors a
reductionistic view of the world, the less chance such
phenomena will emerge (let alone be witnessed by them);
the more one is interested in interconnectedness, and open
to psi experiences, the more likely the world will
"respond" by creating such experiences.