Here is a little video of an ESP stunt that we created on the London Underground….

Which symbol did you choose?

96 comments

    1. I chose the bacon.

      Actually, I was going to choose the star, but changed to bacon once I saw that was available.

    2. I picked the bacon right off. I wonder if time of day has any influence on the decision? It is morning here…hmmm?

    3. Sorry! I chose the waves, I was really surprised that everyone chose the star, the wavy lines seemed the natural choice for me!

    4. Dear Richard,

      I’m a journalist from Oriental Sky (a Chinese media). I’m now writing a aritlce to introduce your book “Quirkology: The curious science of everyday lives. So if it’s possible you could send me some of your photos (2-3 pictures, size over 300 DPI) to me before end of this Thursday (March 31st, 2011)

      Thank you.

  1. I chose the wavy lines but I think I might have been influenced by seeing the star on the video screenshot before I pressed play. It was still symbol #3 so I guess the theory’s still close, but I like to think I would have chosen it even if I hadn’t seen that one in advance. I still didn’t know what the trick would be or if the star was the actual prediction, but I’m kind of disappointed at the prospect that I might have been subconciously biased the wrong way.

    1. I went for Square too , probably due to seeing it a lot on various Playstation pads over the last few years 🙂

  2. Sorry, but I chose the wavy lines (3rd position). My 2nd choice was the plus (1st position) but I stuck with my 1st choice.

  3. I’m a wavy line kind of guy, but that’s from Ghostbusters, so you would zap me with some electricity now. 🙂

    Otherwise, I would two frogs on a bench. (Yes, another movie reference, guess which one) ?

    1. Maybe I was subliminally influenced to choose the wavy lines because of the bacon resemblance. I was feeling peckish at the time!

  4. Years ago I was given a “business card” with the numbers 1-2-3-4 printed in large type on one side and a request to choose a number. The other side had the words “Sex maniacs choose number 3”. Apparently a large majority of people, when required to choose within a very limited time period, choose number 3.

  5. I went bacon also.

    I’d heard before that ends were less popular. This was a tip I was given on how to choose a bathroom stall. The assumption is that a less-used one will be less dirty, I suppose.

  6. Interesting informal experiment, but what percentage of people chose the star compared to wavy lines?

    Many people on this message board chose wavy lines. Some video edits of people saying “star” doesn’t tell us very much!

    Also, there was a poll on Richard’s ‘Paranormality’ book promotional website not long ago with the same test. Interestingly, the poll had the wavy lines in first place above the star when I voted. The poll is no longer on the web site. What was the final result?

    If the results of this kind of experiment are to be believed, they may have something to say about how to conduct real tests of ESP. For example, if these spatial and cognitive biases are quite strong, they could easily override any weaker ESP effect. This would be especially true if you use a majority vote technique over a few number of trials, which was the case in the twitter RV experiment a while back.

    1. It is just promotion for his book that’s all. I must say, it’s not bad. Being a graphic designer myself end making some self promotion, here :))

    1. I chose it but the possible religious connotations never occurred to me. It just looked all mathematical to me.

    1. Yeah, wavy lines here too. I think Richard’s theory that we don’t choose the end ones holds up though.

  7. I chose square on the grounds that it was on the end and I knew about the position effect – it’s first-year undergrad psychology. Hardly an unusual experiment, but a good way to promote your book.

  8. Oops… seems that professor had made something wrong in this test… why there are more people here didn’t choose the Star as professor predicted? is there any explanation?

    1. that isn’t how science works. There could be selection bias as Chris says, people could be lying, I’m sure everyone likes to think they beat the experiment. People could also be lying to themselves, you need to ask people before you tell them the answer, they may convince themselves they chose a different symbol to feel like they won.

  9. I picked the star.
    And seriously peeps, only 30 responses so far. Wait until you have 200 or so before it’s fit to make any comments about whether or not Richard is right.

  10. I guess most people who chose the star aren’t commenting on it.
    For me, instead of choosing one randomly, I chose the one that I guessed would be the answer – the star.
    As people have said, the ends are usually not picked. It was then close between the star and the wavy lines but I guess the general public are more inclined to go with the star as it is a more familiar shape to them with a clear name. “star” as opposed to the wavy lines/ water/ wind/ squiggle.

  11. I noticed that the wavy lines were on their side, which I didn’t like so I didn’t pick them. I picked the cross, as it’s the neatest of the figures.

  12. This is an excellent way to read the mind of the 25% of the world population. And this is a large number indeed.
    It reminds me of the guy who sent predictions of the winning horse . He sent his prediction to 10.000 people; then the next week he repeated the prediction to the 1000 who would have won. By the end on the fourth week he has 10 potential clients who may be very interested in buying his system, which I have offered here for free.

  13. I received an e-mail a few years ago, with a test in the end: “think in a color and a tool fast”, then it was said that the majority of the people would choose “red” and “hammer”, but it had no explanations of why. My choices at that time were “yellow” and “hammer”, but all my friends went with the answer of the e-mail. Despite the absence of multiple choices, I think both predictions go the same way, right?

  14. It would be interesting to re-run the experiment on several different escalators with the shapes ordered differently on each, to reveal any biases created by the ordering. Once position was controlled for, it would be interesting to run the experiment with 4 stars, each with a different number of points.

  15. My experience as an amateur magician, and working a lot with ESP cards, is that most people will pick the star followed by the wavy lines. Not everyone, but most. And I have to say that there is some very clever marketing going on for Paranormality; I expect it will sell lots of copies and deservedly so.

  16. I chose the wavy line too. It was the first thing that stood out for me, probably partially because it’s bigger than the other symbols.

    I wonder if seeing it from above (like in the video) makes any difference compared to seeing it from below (the way you’d see it if you’re coming up the escalator.

  17. There are posters on the way up the escalator that say “The star”. Could that have had any influence on the results?

  18. During the intro I kept saying to myself, “Not the start, not the star, don’t pick the star, everyone picks the star” and ended up zeroing in on the star.

  19. i chose the star too. but i saw the first few comments saying “wavy” so i possibly was influenced to choose something else.

    i don’t think commenters on this blog are a very representative group. if you aren’t a geek (and god knows we love bacon) you are at least someone who is interested in psychology and so would already be a bit sceptical while watching the video

  20. I chose the wavy lines. But, as mentioned above, the video showed numerous posters of the “Star” on the wall up the escalator. Could it be repetition of an image that influenced the people being questioned?

  21. I choose the wave, but I’m lefthanded (rightbrained) when I look at pictures I always look first to the right side. So the theory is correct although my answer is different.

  22. Hehe, it was probably meant to create a “smelly” association but the population of the interwebz interpreted it as “bacon” 😀

    I picked the plus sign.

  23. I was tempted for a split second to choose the star, then plumped for the wavy lines. I agree that there will be selection bias with readers of this blog consciously or unconsciously trying to avoid the ‘obvious’ first choice.

  24. At first I chose the star after a brief glance, but within seconds I thought perhaps it should be the wavy lines. I was surprise to see the result was the star. My first choice was not based on any thought associations, it’s just a “brief, strong feeling” that led me to the star picture. I suppose my “intuition” worked to influence my first choice before my rational thinking took over, all within the blink of my eyes. So probably this experiment means that intuition can be a strong basis for decision making.

  25. after the announced result – briefly, in one shot of the escalator the frames on the wall have just the image of the star and the words “the star” –
    where did this fit into the experiment?

    and you have an edited selection of people saying “the star” rather a small group, suspicious I would say…
    – this could be like a Daily Mail poll – where they pick a group of pensioners in Kent and say, “What is the biggest threat to a calm community in an age of free migration?

    answer “Immigrants”
    and those who say different are not broadcast.

    I can see the logic for the star – but I do wonder if the real experiment is on those making comments here…?

  26. Might it not have something to do with the fact that they show several frames with the star in it along the escalator? I’m not sure if they show the other shapes, but it doesn’t look like it. If the star was shown repeatedly, then people are going to remember it over the other shapes.

  27. I chose the wavy lines, as would most people in America. It is along the same principals he described but usually here people won’t choose the first, last, or any even number (symbol). I have been doing this as a sort of party “trick” for many years. I had business cards printed with “Pick a number” and below that “1 2 3 4”. Then on the back of the card I had printed “All perverts pick 3”. Over 90% of the time (I didn’t keep an exact tally) people, men and women, had picked 3. Most of the times 3 wasn’t picked I did notice it was from people from Europe.

  28. Dear Richard,

    I’m a journalist from Oriental Sky (a Chinese media). I’m now writing a aritlce to introduce your book “Quirkology: The curious science of everyday lives. So if it’s possible you could send me some of your photos (2-3 pictures, size over 300 DPI) to me before end of this Thursday (March 31st, 2011)

    Thank you.

  29. I think I would’ve subconsciously chosen the star, but my conscious self wavered between the plus sign, star and bacon.

    I chose bacon, because bacon is good for me.

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