Boundaries In The Mind
Douglas G. Richards
spontaneous psi is concerned with interpersonal and
emotional themes. Some but not all experimenters
have found that attention to such themes improves
performance on objective tests. This study explores
the nature of the psychological boundaries related
to subjective perception of success in
interpersonal psychic training exercises. Self-rated
success on the exercises was correlated r(67)
= .48 (p < .001) with the Hartmann (1991)
Boundaries Questionnaire, r(67) = .40 (p
< .001) with the Richards (1990) scale of psychic
experiences, and r(67) = .35 (p < .01)
with a measure of positive affect (Watson, Clark &
Tellegen, 1988). A multiple regression using these
three variables as predictors of subjective success
gave an r2 of .34. Thus
"thin" boundaries, characterized by unusual empathy
and fluidity of thoughts and feelings, along with
previous psychic experiences and a general positive
emotional state, are good predictors of a subjective
sense of success. Similar variables are predictive
of success on objective measures of psi, e.g., the
Boundaries In The Mind
And Interpersonal Psi
spontaneous psi is concerned with interpersonal and
emotional themes. Case collections have shown that
spontaneous psi is much more likely to be reported
among intimates than among strangers or
acquaintances (Rhine, 1981; Stevenson, 1970).
This observation has occasionally been used
in the design of experimental studies. For example,
deliberate inclusion of an emotional component in
the Maimonides dream telepathy experiments (Ullman,
Krippner & Vaughan, 1973) yielded positive results.
Honorton et al. (1990) found that friends do better
as partners in ESP experiments than do strangers.
Braud, Shafer and Andrews (1993) found that
"connectedness training" had an effect on the
detection of remote staring. Reed (1994) has
reviewed studies exploring the relationship of
intimacy to psi, and concluded "Intimacy and
telepathy may be natural partners" (p. 353). On the
other hand, people tend to resist too much intimacy.
Their resistance is reflected in the common fear of
psi, even among people who are intentionally trying
to develop their psychic ability (Tart, 1986).
study explores the nature of the psychological
boundaries related to subjective perception of
success in interpersonal psychic training exercises.
The exercises were performed in the context of a
training program in which professional psychics
offered their advice for increasing psychic
researchers have examined the psychology of
belief in psychic phenomena in regard to
cognitive and personality characteristics (e.g.,
review by Irwin, 1993). Some studies have attempted
to manipulate belief in psi (e.g., Smith, Foster, &
Stovin, 1995). In such studies the manipulation is
typically brief (e.g., a short lecture by the
experimenter or a written statement), and is
unlikely to affect deeply held beliefs. Other
studies simply attempt to assess belief based on
questionnaires, without manipulation. The context in
which these experiments are carried out could affect
the way in which the subjects complete measures of
belief in psi (Irwin, 1991). Neither methodology
separates experience from beliefs.
have taken a population, all of whom have a
high belief in psi and a desire to experience
it (as shown by their willingness to invest several
hundred dollars and a week of time in a psychic
training program). I am addressing the question of
whether there are psychological characteristics that
can predict the degree to which people will feel
they have actually experienced psi, given the
pre-existing belief and desire.
Intimacy and Psi
psychic development training was based on Henry
Reed's (1994) concept of the importance of
psychological intimacy to psi, and was led by Reed
and several professional psychics. People desire an
optimal amount of intimacy; too little and we feel
lonely and isolated; too much and we feel invaded or
engulfed. Like all personality traits, the optimal
amount of intimacy desired varies widely within the
population. I hypothesized that the subjective sense
of success at psi tasks within an interpersonal psi
context would depend on the natural level of
psychological boundaries in the subjects. At the
same time, I was interested in whether a subject's
general emotional qualities influenced the
interpretation of material flowing across boundaries
and the sense of success.
the subjects self-rate subjective success in a
variety of psychic development exercises. The
exercises were intended to rapidly facilitate a form
of intimacy conducive to psi. An example of the type
of exercise used in the conference is the "Getting
To Know You" game developed by Reed (1994). The game
involves a group of 6-8 people sitting in a circle.
A "target person" in the group reads aloud a
standard script (e.g., reciting the alphabet or
counting backwards from 49). The members of the
group are asked to "deeply feel" the voice, not
consciously analyze the voice quality.
the target person has completed the recitation, the
people in the group describe what they experienced.
Reed instructs them to make a special effort to
report their raw experience without interpreting,
judging, or analyzing it first. The target person
then responds with a reaction to each listener's
comments. Typically the participants
enthusiastically agree that a "psychic" event - a
direct mind-to-mind connection - has occurred. Yet
also typically they cannot distinguish subjective
inner experiences from objective impressions of the
target person. Thus the estimate of success in the
psi task appears not to come from inner discernment
("I know this is about the target person"),
but more commonly from external feedback ("She said
my imagery relates to her issues").
might we measure the tendency to experience
psychological closeness, and could this be a
predictor of subjective success at interpersonal psi?
From his research on sleep and dreaming, Ernest
Hartmann (1991) developed a questionnaire to explore
"boundaries in the mind." Hartmann described two
extremes of personality: those people with "thin"
boundaries and those with "thick" boundaries. People
with thin boundaries are unusually empathic,
unusually open in psychological interviews, become
quickly and intensely involved in relationships, and
have a fluidity of thoughts and feelings. He refers
to them as "undefended" in the psychoanalytic sense;
they generally tend not to have the defense
mechanisms people use to keep uncomfortable material
out of conscious awareness. "Everything in their
minds seemed to flow together. They did not separate
things out, nor did they have barriers or walls to
separate themselves from the world" (Hartmann, 1991,
p. 16). Those with thick boundaries, on the other
hand, are closed, defended, solid, and "full of
description of a person with thin boundaries sounds
like someone who would be likely to rapidly develop
intimacy and to exhibit interpersonal psi. With
thin, permeable boundaries, such a person should be
sensitive to subtle psychic impressions, if they are
measure the personality traits of thin and thick
boundaries, Hartmann developed the Boundary
Questionnaire, a 145-item pencil and paper inventory
of experiences related to boundaries, divided into
12 categories. Table 1 gives examples of items in
having thin boundaries may not be enough to result
in a feeling of success in psychic training
exercises. Hartmann notes that some people with thin
boundaries can be overwhelmed by relationships and
easily hurt emotionally. I hypothesized that another
factor might be involved: general affect - the
emotional qualities of the person. Those people with
both thin boundaries and a generally positive
emotional outlook would be most likely to report
success in these exercises.
subjects were attendees at a "Psychic Development
Training & Research Project" conference, led by
Henry Reed, at the Association for Research and
Enlightenment (A.R.E.) in Virginia Beach. From 86
initial volunteers, 67 submitted completed
questionnaires, including the final assessment of
success in training (see below). The mean age of the
subjects was 49.0 (SD = 12.0) years, and the sex
distribution was 18.8% male and 81.2% female. This
is roughly the same as in other studies of this
population conducted by Kohr (1980) and Richards
Hartmann Boundary Questionnaire. The Hartmann
(1991) Boundary Questionnaire is the 145-item
questionnaire described above. The scale yields a
total "SumBound" score, and scores on the individual
categories. High scores indicate the "thin"
direction. The range of possible scores is from 0 to
580. The overall scale has an alpha reliability of
Psychic Experiences Scale. Previous psychic
experiences were measured using the Psychic
Experiences Scale developed by Richards (1990b).
This scale consists of 7 items reflecting major
categories of psychic experiences. The range of
possible scores is from 7 to 21. The scale has an
alpha reliability of .59.
Positive and Negative Affect Schedules (PANAS).
General affect was measured using the Positive and
Negative Affect Schedules (PANAS), a one-page,
twenty-item measure, requiring endorsement, on a
five-point scale, of adjectives such as
"enthusiastic," "excited," "angry," and "irritable"
(Watson, Clark & Tellegen, 1988). The range of
possible scores on each of the two scales is 5 to
50. Watson et al. report an alpha reliability of .88
for the positive affect (PA) scale and .87 for the
negative affect (NA) scale. They
have shown that their concepts of positive and
negative affect correspond closely to the traits
termed "extraversion" and "anxiety/neuroticism" in
many other studies. These scales are a convenient
measure of affect, and were used in the Richards
(1991) study of psychic experiences and
Subjective Success in Psi Training
conference included a number of practice exercises,
associated with each lecturer's presentation. For
example, one exercise was Reed's (1994) "Getting To
Know You Game," described above. Another involved
psychometry - reading someone by holding an object
belonging to them. Another exercise was the "Dream
Helper Ceremony" (Reed and Van De Castle, 1991), in
which the participants attempt to have dreams with
psi to help a person with problems. The emphasis in
all exercises was on interpersonal psi, in contrast
to remote viewing of scenic locations or PK on
random event generators. The training was a sincere
attempt on the part of the psychics to create an
atmosphere where actual psi could manifest. A
conscious effort was made to avoid "cold reading,"
i.e., the deliberate use of sensory cues and
universally applicable statements of personality
characteristics (cf., Hyman, 1977). However, there
were no controls for sensory leakage, or for the
possible tendency of the target persons to please
the participants by coming up with matches.
exercise, the subjects were asked to rate their
subjective sense of how well they did on that
exercise, on a 9-point scale, with 1 being "No ESP
at all" and 9 being "A great deal of ESP." There was
no attempt to objectively measure psi; the rating is
could participate in a maximum of 11 exercises. Not
all subjects participated in all exercises. The
score for subjective success in psychic training for
each subject was the mean rating of success in the
exercises done by that subject, and ranged from 1 to
conference had been advertised as a week-long
"Psychic Development Training and Research Project,"
so the attendees were already aware that they had
the option (but not the requirement) of
participating in a research project. The researcher
administered the personality/experiences measures to
the subjects at the beginning of the conference. The
researcher explained that the project involved the
psychology of psychic perception, but did not
discuss the specific hypotheses. The questionnaires
were administered anonymously; each subject was
assigned a number, and they were asked not to
include their names. At the end of the week, a
two-page questionnaire on subjective success was
handed out. Only subjects who completed both the
initial and final questionnaires were included in
the data analysis. To minimize experimenter effects,
the researcher was not involved in or present during
the psychic training exercises and completion of
correlation matrix for the five measures is given in
Table 2, with the means and standard deviations in
Table 3. The subjective sense of
success in training (Success) and the Psychic
Experiences Scale (PsiExp) were significantly
correlated with the sum of the boundaries items (SumBound)
(p < .001). Positive Affect (PA) was also
correlated with Success (p < .01).
gives the results of a stepwise multiple regression
with Success as the dependent variable, and SumBound,
PsiExp and PA as the independent variables. The
regression as a whole was significant (F (3, 64) =
10.95, p < .001), and each independent
variable made a contribution to predicting the
dependent variable (total r2
correlations of Success were done with the
individual boundaries subscales, however, only some
of the subscales showed significant correlations
(Table 5). The significant correlations (p <
.01) were all with the subscales in the
experiential/emotional group, rather than those in
the cognitive/intellectual group. The
experiential/emotional subscales included Unusual
Experiences (.49), Thoughts/Feelings (.45), and
PsiExp, the strongest correlation, not surprisingly,
was with the Unusual Experiences subscale (.61).
There was a weaker correlation with the
Sleep/Wake/Dream subscale (.39).
had no consistent relationship to boundaries.
Positive Affect was
weakly positively correlated with SumBound; this
correlation was due to weak positive correlations in
both categories of subscales. Negative Affect, on
the other hand, had much stronger correlations for
some of the scales, but they were in opposite
directions, yielding an overall nonsignificant
correlation of r (67) =.05. None of the
scales significantly correlated with Affect were the
same scales correlating with Success or PsiExp.
boundaries, general positive affect, and previous
psychic experiences are good predictors of
subjective success in interpersonal psychic
development exercises. Affect and boundaries are not
highly correlated, and make largely independent
contributions to success. Together, these three
variables account for 34 percent of the variance, a
concept of boundaries, however, does not appear to
be as unitary as Hartmann (1991) suggests. For psi,
only the experiential/emotional subscales were
relevant. The cognitive/intellectual group,
generally measuring beliefs relating to
boundaries rather than experiences, had no
relationship to subjective success in psychic
subjective success is not the same as "belief" in
psi, an intellectual process. All of the subjects
believe enough in psi to spend several hundred
dollars and a week of their time in development of
their psychic abilities. Yet despite their shared
belief, not all felt they had equal success.
Interpersonal psi is an emotional/experiential
process, not a cognitive/intellectual process. Those
who have thin boundaries in the emotional sense feel
they are more successful.
et al. (1986) have reported similar results in a
study looking at factors influencing objective
success in first-time performance in ganzfeld
experiments. One of the weakest predictors was
self-rated belief in psi (a statistically
suggestive correlation of r = .189). Much
more useful as a predictor was the number of types
of ESP experiences reported (r =
.439). Another important predictor was the
Feeling/Thinking dimension of the Myers-Briggs
Type Indicator (MBTI). Feeling types
exhibited strong ESP performance; Thinking
types scored at chance. My result suggests that
thickness of boundaries is an additional relevant
dimension to Feeling. The
cognitive/intellectual boundaries related to
Thinking were not not related to success.
Finally, Honorton et al. found that extraverts
tended to prefer friends as senders, and exhibited
significantly more ESP in that condition. My measure
of positive affect, correlated in this study with
subjective success, was shown by Watson et al.
(1988) to be very similar to extraversion as
measured by the MBTI or the Eysenck Personality
an apparent contradiction regarding the personality
variables associated with both subjective and
objective psi. Numerous studies have shown that
well-adjusted extraverts tend to do well in
objective tests (Thalbourne, 1981). On the other
hand, both belief in psi and subjective psychic
experiences tend to be correlated with personality
variables often seen as pathological (Thalbourne &
Delin, 1994). Thalbourne and Delin found that belief
in psi correlated with the "magical ideation"
characteristic of schizophrenia and with both manic
and depressive experiences (r ranging from
about .2 to .6). Richards (1991) found significant
correlations of dissociation (characteristic of
multiple personality) with a variety of psychic
experiences (r ranging from about .3 to .4).
(1991) has also noted that thin boundaries often
appear in conjunction with pathology. But he makes
it clear that he does not consider "thin boundaries"
to be another way of saying "vulnerable to
psychological illness." Thin boundaries can be
adaptive - such traits as openness and creativity,
as well as sensitivity to interpersonal psi. Thin
boundaries can also be maladaptive - such traits as
emotional vulnerability and becoming lost in
resolve the apparent contradiction we need to bear
in mind that even relatively high correlations
(e.g., r = .5) do not mean that two variables
are identical. A correlation of .5 still only
accounts for 25% of the variance. The correlations
found by Thalbourne and Delin, and by Richards, mean
that although there is a relationship between
psychic beliefs/experiences and certain measures
usually interpreted as pathological, a substantial
number of people have these experiences without any
evidence of pathology.
those personality traits often thought of as
pathological may have positive interpretations.
Hartmann has looked at the Boundary Questionnaire in
relation to the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality
Inventory (MMPI). The highest correlations with the
clinical subscales of the MMPI were .41 with the
Paranoia scale (often considered a measure of
interpersonal sensitivity in nonclinical
populations) and .40 with the Masculinity/Femininity
scale for males (in the feminine direction, possibly
reflecting greater empathy). The correlation with
the Schizophrenia scale was rather low (.25),
indicating that having thin boundaries is not
equivalent to having intrusive boundary invasion.
study, in people who have high positive
affect, we see a high tolerance for thin boundaries.
These people, comfortable with their thin
boundaries, are positive about their psychic
experiences. Such people are exhibiting the same
characteristics that Honorton et al. (1986) found
useful in predicting success in the ganzfeld. There
is no reason to label their thin boundaries as
other hand people with thin boundaries and high
negative affect who come to a conference like
this are probably quite ambivalent or distressed
about psi. They have had spontaneous psychic
experiences, but would like to gain some control
over them. They want to make their experiences less
invasive, rather than further blurring boundaries.
Such people would probably not make good subjects
for experiments in interpersonal psi, despite their
high levels of belief and experiences.
concept of boundaries relevant to objectively
measured psi? Schmeidler and LeShan (1970) looked at
a similar construct, "body image," in relation to
experimental ESP scores. They used a Rorschach test
scored with Fisher and Cleveland's (1958) concepts
of "barrier" and "penetration" as measures of
personality. In barrier responses, the subject
conceptualizes his body as surrounded by a
protective covering, as contrasted with a permeable
membrane (penetration responses). Like the present
study, the subjects were all "sheep" - believers in
ESP according to Schmeidler's criteria. Subjects
with higher ESP scores were significantly lower on
barrier and higher on penetration than those with
lower ESP scores. Schmeidler and LeShan's result,
together with the convergence between the factors
predictive of objective success in the ganzfeld and
the factors predictive of subjective success in
these interpersonal exercises, suggests that the
boundaries concept should be explored for use in
Subjective psi seems easy to demonstrate in
interpersonal settings like those discussed by Reed
(1994). The challenge is to design objective
experiments that preserve the interpersonal
component and meaningful interactions for the
participants, while at the same time taking into
account our ambivalent desires for intimacy. In the
selection of subjects, the interpersonal and
emotional aspects of personality tapped by the
Boundaries Questionnaire, as well as the affective
component of personality, could play a useful role.
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Examples of Items
From the Hartmann Boundary Questionnaire
Ex: When I awake in
the morning, I am not sure whether I am really awake
for a few minutes.
experiences (19 items)
Ex: I have had deja vu
feelings, moods (16 items)
Ex: Sometimes I don't
know whether I am thinking or feeling.
Childhood,adolescence, adulthood (6 items)
Ex: I am very close to
my childhood feelings.
Ex: When I get
involved with someone, we sometimes get too close.
6. Sensitivity (5
Ex: I am very
sensitive to other people's feelings.
7. Neat, exact,
precise (11 items)
Ex: I keep my desk or
worktable neat and well organized.
8. Edges, lines,
clothing (20 items)
Ex: I like houses with
flexible spaces, where you can shift things around
and make different uses of the same rooms.
9. Opinions about
children and others (8 items)
Ex: I think a good
teacher must remain in part a child.
10. Opinions about
organizations (10 items)
Ex: In an
organization, everyone should have a definite place
and a specific role.
11. Opinions about
people, nations, groups (14 items)
Ex: There are no sharp
dividing lines between normal people, people with
problems, and people who are considered psychotic or
12. Opinions about
beauty, truth (7 items)
Ex: Either you are
telling the truth or you are lying; that's all there
is to it.
Among Measures of Success, Experiences, and
Personality (n = 67)
Positive Affect (PA)
Negative Affect (NA)
*** p < .001
** p < .01 * p < .05
Means and Standard
Deviations for Questionnaire Scales (n = 67)
Positive Affect (PA)
Negative Affect (NA)
Results of Multiple
Regression with Success as Dependent Variable
.01 .32 .01 .23
.12 .23 .06 .29
Affect .07 .24 .03
F (3,64) =
10.95 (p < .001)
Success, Psychic Experiences, and Affect Measures
with Subscales of
the Boundaries Questionnaire (n = 67)
2. Unusual experiences
9. Opinion: children
11. Opinion: people
12. Opinion: beauty
*** p < .001
** p < .01 *
p < .05