The Ideomotor Effect

Involuntary Muscular Movement

The ideomotor effect is a theory that can provide a possible explanation for many paranormal phenomena such as dowsing and ouija boards. In essence it says that people are subconsciously deluding themselves and creating the supposed psychic effects themselves.

Many Skeptics tend to argue that because the ideomotor effect could provide such an explanation then there is no need to consider any other possibilities.

People like myself argue that whether dowsing etc is a result of psychic power, undiscovered fields of force or simply the ideomotor effect is irrelevant. What matters is the result.

What Is The Ideomotor Effect?

The ideomotor theory – also known as automatism – was first proposed in 1852 by William B. Carpenter. Essentially it says that the human body produces tiny, involuntary muscular movements in response to subconscious desires.

This theory is often used to explain the success of paranormal activities such as scrying with pendulums, ouija boards and dowsing. This does not mean that the psychic is deliberately “faking it”; the ideomotor effect is unconscious.

For example, when using a Ouija board, one or more members of the circle is likely to have expectations of success. That person could – without realising it – start to move the pointer. Once a word or phrase begins to be spelt out, other sitters could also begin to subconsciously move the pointer via ideomotor action to “complete” the message.

Similarly in the case of dowsing the suggestion is that the dowser knows via “normal” means (albeit unconsiously) the location of the target and via the ideomotor effect causes the dowsing rod to react accordingly.

There is no doubt that the ideomotor effect exists. In particular the subconscious influencing of a pendulum swing is a well-known parlour trick.

However as an explanation of paranormal experiences it is only a theory. Even if some results are due to the ideomotor effect that doesn’t mean that they all are. And even if all “paranormal” scrying was in reality the result of the ideomotor effect, that would not remove the value of such activity as a means of accessing unconscious knowledge.