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 et al., 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.
Keywords: presentiment, predictive coding, anticipatory activity, neural prediction, temporal processing
Citation: Mossbridge JA, Tressoldi P, Utts J, Ives JA, Radin D and Jonas WB (2014) Predicting the unpredictable: critical analysis and practical implications of predictive anticipatory activity. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 8:146. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00146
Received: 16 January 2014; Accepted: 27 February 2014;
Published online: 25 March 2014.
Edited by:Etzel Cardeña, University of Lund, Sweden
Copyright © 2014 Mossbridge, Tressoldi, Utts, Ives, Radin and Jonas. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
*Correspondence: Julia A. Mossbridge, Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, 2029 N. Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208, USA e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org