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Front Hum Neurosci. 2014 Mar 25;8:146. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00146. eCollection 2014.

Predicting the unpredictable: critical analysis and practical implications of predictive anticipatory activity.

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Department of Psychology, Northwestern University Evanston, IL, USA.
Dipartimento di Psicologia Generale, Universita di Padova Padova, Italy.
Department of Statistics, University of California at Irvine Irvine, CA, USA.
Samueli Institute Alexandria, VA, USA.
Consciousness Research Laboratory, Institute of Noetic Sciences Petaluma, CA, USA.


A recent meta-analysis of experiments from seven independent laboratories (n = 26) indicates that the human body can apparently detect randomly delivered stimuli occurring 1-10 s in the future (Mossbridge etal., 2012). The key observation in these studies is that human physiology appears to be able to distinguish between unpredictable dichotomous future stimuli, such as emotional vs. neutral images or sound vs. silence. This phenomenon has been called presentiment (as in "feeling the future"). In this paper we call it predictive anticipatory activity (PAA). The phenomenon is "predictive" because it can distinguish between upcoming stimuli; it is "anticipatory" because the physiological changes occur before a future event; and it is an "activity" because it involves changes in the cardiopulmonary, skin, and/or nervous systems. PAA is an unconscious phenomenon that seems to be a time-reversed reflection of the usual physiological response to a stimulus. It appears to resemble precognition (consciously knowing something is going to happen before it does), but PAA specifically refers to unconscious physiological reactions as opposed to conscious premonitions. Though it is possible that PAA underlies the conscious experience of precognition, experiments testing this idea have not produced clear results. The first part of this paper reviews the evidence for PAA and examines the two most difficult challenges for obtaining valid evidence for it: expectation bias and multiple analyses. The second part speculates on possible mechanisms and the theoretical implications of PAA for understanding physiology and consciousness. The third part examines potential practical applications.


anticipatory activity; neural prediction; predictive coding; presentiment; temporal processing

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