British Columbia

UBC researchers use Ouija boards to tap the subconscious

Researchers at the University of British Columbia are using Ouija boards to test human intelligence.

Study finds people's ideomotor reflex — not ghosts — moves the spirit board

Ouija board brain research at UBC

9 years ago
Duration 2:08
Researcher uses a Ouija board to test for subconscious knowledge

Researchers at the University of British Columbia are using Ouija boards to test human intelligence.

Docky Duncan with UBC's Visual Cognition Lab says the spirit board traditionally used to channel the dead can also be used to test people's unconscious knowledge. He says it's not ghosts moving the board, but users' ideomotor reflex.

"The movements that you see on a Ouija board are unconscious movements. They are produced by the players themselves, but they don't feel responsibility for them," said Duncan.

To test this theory, Duncan has blindfolded subjects place their fingers on the planchette — or the triangular piece of wood that moves across the board — and then asks them yes or no questions. So far, he has found that most people answer two out of every three questions correctly, even if they think they don't know the answer. 

"Ask someone if they know, you know, 'What's the capital of Cambodia?' and they might say, 'I have no idea.' But they might have heard it somewhere, and it may actually be inside your brain somewhere," said Duncan.

"When we ask people these questions using these unconscious answers, suddenly players can actually access that knowledge and it really becomes manifested."

Project helped by crowdfunding

UBC psychology professor Ron Rensink​ helped Duncan get the project off the ground by launching a crowdfunding campaign on Microryza.

'We've always thought the conscious mind was it. That was all there was. Now we're becoming aware there's this second system within us, this second intelligence that can also be quite useful," said Rensink.

He said while the research is still in its early stages, it could one day be used to explain diseases of the mind.

"For example, you could imagine the non-conscious system might be affected earlier, in which case this could be an early warning signal for Alzheimer's," said Rensink.

"On the other hand, it could be that the non-conscious system is affected much later, in which case you still might be able to communicate with people even though their conscious mind might not be up for it."

UBC is hoping to find donations and volunteers for another round of research this spring.

With files from the CBC's Bal Brach