Testing Aura Reading

The Human AuraMany psychics claim to be able to gain information about your health and your emotional state by clairvoyantly examining your aura, a subtle energy field radiating from your body.

The first step in testing this claim is to confirm that the psychic is seeing something at all. We can worry about whether or not his diagnosis is accurate later on.

One might be tempted to do this by gathering a group of psychics and comparing what they describe; if they all independently see a sky blue aura around you, then perhaps we have a real phenomenon on our hands. However this approach isn’t as dependable as we’d like. In observing your face and demeanor they’re each gathering information about you, consciously or subconsciously. If they see that you have a calm, happy attitude and the cultural consensus is that calm, happy people have sky blue auras, then it isn’t unthinkable that their intuitions might be the product of a mundane mental process. We need to come up with a test that isn’t so vulnerable to non-psychic interference.

Such a test was conducted by James Randi during a TV special called Exploring Psychic Powers Live! that aired in 1989. The psychic being tested chose ten people whose auras were clearly visible to her. On stage were ten numbered screens which some of the volunteers were to stand behind. The screens were short enough that the psychic was comfortable a person’s aura could be seen above them, allowing her to identify which screens concealed a person and which didn’t. The volunteers were randomly distributed behind them and the psychic was asked to make her determination. She saw auras over all ten screens, however only four of the screens had a volunteer behind them. Had she been correct the agreed upon number of times (eight out of ten) she would have won a $100,000 prize, but her success rate was no better than predicted by chance.

The most important thing to take away from this experiment is that both the tester and the psychic were in agreement that the test was sound. She didn’t feel that the test was unfair; she simply failed it. You should take the same approach in your own tests. Always make sure that the person being tested is confident he can pass it. Stacking the deck against him in any way would be cheap and dishonest, making the test nothing but a waste of both of your time. The goal is to reveal the truth, not prove a point.

It was also wise of the testers to make sure that the aura was in plain sight. It would be an easy mistake to use a floor to ceiling barrier, assuming that whatever the psychic was perceiving would just pass right through it anyway. This would introduce an opportunity for the subject to cry foul — an unnecessary weakness in the test. It isn’t up to the tester to make decisions about the mechanics of clairvoyance. If the subject argues that something interferes with his abilities you should take his word for it. In fact, you should calibrate your experiment from the beginning by letting the subject watch a volunteer walk behind the screen and ask him, “Can you still see the aura?” Adjust the screen until he does, then proceed with the test.

But what about other aura reading techniques? Auras aren’t always seen; sometimes they’re felt.

A test for the tactile perception of the body’s energy field was brilliantly devised in 1996 by Emily Rosa, then 9 years old, for her 4th grade science project. She tested 21 Therapeutic Touch practitioners by having each one sit at a table and extend his or her hands through a screen. From the other side Emily would hover one of her hands (decided by coin toss) over one of the practitioner’s.

Emily's Experiment (drawing by Pat Linse, Skeptics Society)

Being accomplished aura-manipulators it should have been trivial for them to pinpoint which of their hands was an inch from Emily’s, but given ten tries each none of the practitioners did better than chance. Two years later Emily became the youngest person ever to publish a paper — “A Close Look at Therapeutic Touch” — in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

We should all aspire to be at least as clever as a 4th grader in our own tests of the paranormal. Hopefully these real world examples give you some ideas to play with. If your subject sees auras when no one is there, and doesn’t when there’s a body right in front of him, then it’s a safe bet that what he’s perceiving was in his head all along. If you ever manage to find someone who can consistently pinpoint an aura where (and only where) an aura should be, I’d be very interested to hear about it. As would Randi and Rosa.

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