by Viki Papadakis
I would make all players pinky promise they wouldn’t move it. I’d make them swear on their grandmothers’ lives they would play the game honestly. “Only the spirits can talk. If you cheat, they could follow you home and haunt you for the rest of your life,” I’d say. As I placed my chubby, dirt-encrusted fingers on the glow-in-the-dark plastic, I remember wondering to myself how this flimsy, letter-clad piece of cardboard had obtained the power to communicate with the spirit world. After all, it was manufactured in China just like my Lisa Frank backpack. What the hell made this Ouija board different than that stylish accessory?
My expectations. As disappointing as it is, it is these expectations, rather than the spirit world, that have written me messages on the Ouija Board since my fourth grade introduction to the game. No magic, no spirits. Just me, my adolescent friends, and our silly, immature expectations. In 1852, psychologist William B. Carpenter coined the term “ideomotor effect” as an explanation to the popular practice of dowsing. When dowsing, people would enlist the help of metal or wooden rods that would suddenly jolt downwards once above desirable underground minerals. Similar to beliefs behind the Ouija board, many regarded these jolts as messages from the spirit realm. Realizing the absurdity and unlikelihood of this practice of dowsing, Carpenter hypothesized that the human mind had actually stimulated the muscles of the body without alerting the person’s conscious. This, my friends, is the ideomotor effect. Today, there is a more complex definition of this hypothesis. As written in an article by psychologists Ammirante, Thompson, and Russo, “the ideomotor principle predicts that perception will modulate action where overlap exists between perceptual and motor representations of action.” Basically, mental perception sometimes has a motor representation. As for our Ouija board example, because I perceived that the Ouija board would grant me a message from the spirit world, I gained an expectation of that occurring. This expectation caused for me to unconsciously spell out a message to myself on the Ouija board, which was the motor representation of my perception.
Despite this information, people will continue to be convinced that their dead Uncle Larry is communicating with them through their Ouija board--and that’s okay. It is important to remember that to the people who believe in its powers, Ouija boards can provide peace, confirmation, and entertainment. As students, however, we should take note of this powerful effect. Acknowledging its existence will not only contribute to knowledge overall, but make us sure that we won’t make any rash decisions based on Ouija board “messages”.
While most of this information came from memory, as I have researched this effect for some months now, one article I used , written by psychologists Ammirante, Thompson, and Russo, can be found when clicking on the following link:http://www.academia.edu/1433029/Ideomotor_effects_of_pitch_on_continuation_tapping
Another article I used can be found here: http://www.pfisters.de/publications/articles/Pfister_Kiesel_Melcher_2010__ActaPsy.pdf
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