Children and ESP

15th March 2021. Reading Time: 12 minutes Paranormal Theories, General. 1992 page views. 0 comments.

Do children have the natural ability of ESP? Why does it seem to fade as a child gets older? What is the significance of having a personal connection? Let's explore these concepts through the work of Louisa E Rhine.

ESP stands for extrasensory perception.  It is the ability to receive or perceive information by what is considered to be supernatural means.  It could be an act of telepathy or a pre-cognitive dream for example.  While it is something that is often tested on adults, it is thought that young children also have this ability.  One of the pioneers in this form of research with children was Louisa E Rhine.

Dr J B & Louisa Rhine - Image Source

Born in 1891, Louisa Weckesser who was an American doctor of Botany, married a fellow graduate student in 1920 - Mr. Joseph Banks Rhine.  In 1927, they moved to Durham in North Carolina raising a family of 4 and going on to create a parapsychological dynasty.  Louisa herself would become 'The First Lady of Parapsychology'.  While her husband J.B Rhine was famous for his parapsychology experiments, Louisa was busy documenting the results of the experiments in her journals. After having 4 Children, in 1937 with her husband's support behind her, she published her first parapsychology paper on the results of ESP trials she was conducting with children.  Once her children were out of school and off to study further at University, she began her extensive work of studying spontaneous cases in 1948.  It was this work that would set her apart and allowed her to shine.  The Duke University lab of parapsychology she had been working out of with her husband over time received thousands of letters detailing experiences where the writer felt they were experiencing something supernatural.  With the support of her husband, she researched these claims further.  She went on to write 6 books and 18 scholarly journal pieces on the different cases she researched.

Among Dr. Louisa E. Rhine's collection of over 30,000 letters of spontaneous adult psi experiences were separate files containing 216 acceptable cases received between 1961 and 1977 from school-age children ages 10-18 years (mean age = 14 years). Of the 216 letters, 148 specifically recounted 157 spontaneous psi experiences; these cases are compared with Schouten's (1982) analysis of 1,620 randomly selected adult-only psi experience letters from the "Rhine collection." The school-age children's experiences were analyzed according to Schouten's categories, resulting in Precognitive Dreams (52.2%) and Intuitive Experiences (25.1%). Chi-square analyses yielded a significant difference between the two samples for Precognitive Dreams, Intuitive Experiences, and Waking Sensory Experiences. Two thirds of the children's letters were from females, with the highest connection for the percipient with acquaintances (friends, teachers, neighbors) and very low reporting of experience with parents (the opposite is true and in marked contrast in Schouten's adult data). Same-sex target person prevailed in precognitive dreams and intuitions for male and female percipients. Another striking feature was that 14.8% of reported precognitive dreams were about the children themselves, and 8.9% about their pets. The highest percentage of precognitive content was around trivial events (54.1%) compared with death (18.5%) or serious injury (19.3%), also in marked contrast to Schouten's adult data. Several case examples help elaborate the various categories.

Drewes, Athena. (2002). Dr. Louisa Rhine's Letters Revisited: The Children. The Journal of parapsychology. 66. 

Louisa was particularly interested in children and their connection with ESP.  She felt that while it was not only interesting that children had these abilities, they actually gave a key to understanding psi abilities at a deeper level.  One of the most common examples was children seemingly reading their parent's thoughts by verbalizing something that the parent was thinking of at the time.  It is suggested that pre-school-aged children who have a small family network and a strong connection with their parents are engaging in unintended acts of telepathy.  They are often written off as a coincidence by the parent and telepathy is not even considered in a lot of circumstances.  It means it is something that could be a lot more common than we think.  While the connection seemed to be most apparent between a parent and child, it would also rarely occur between two children as well.  Often they were siblings, so they still had a strong connection.  As a child approached primary school age and became older, it was found occurrences dropped off and even children who had scored higher in ESP testing at a younger age scored average results as they became older.  Louisa theorized this was because as a child becomes older, their network of people they are connected to becomes much larger.  As they grow more independent, the connection with their parent while still close is not as exclusive.

This happened in my own family, too. I have mentioned before that my husband and I at first brushed off as just coincidence the fact that one of our daughters, then about three years old, seemed repeatedly to voice my own unspoken thought and that eventually we did take notice and I began to keep a diary, recording the incidents.  In time, as the entries accumulated, it was possible to notice some recurring characteristics in these little episodes. The first, as with the children in the cases above, was the ease and effortlessness of the apparent transfer. One typical example occurred when the child was playing contentedly on the floor after breakfast and I was starting to clear the table. One piece of buttered toast remained and I was tempted. Then I thought, "No, I'm gaining. I must not eat it."  Just then the little voice, in true unflattering child-fashion, piped up: "Mama, you're fatter now than you've ever been, aren't you?"  And then, back to her own pursuits again—no follow-up, just as there had been no introduction to her thought. For several reasons I was "really stirred," but she was entirely oblivious.  The remark was evidently based on an impression received so easily and naturally that she was entirely unaware of its extraneous source, and also of the fact that it had no rational introduction or relation to anything that went before or after.

Hidden Channels of the mind Louisa E Rhine (1961)

On top of telepathy, some of the children also seemed to have visions of the future, much like adults do in dreams.  As children, we often tell them they just had a nightmare or that it is their imagination.

At four and a half, a little boy in Michigan dreamed on several different nights that a snake "got" him, and then one day to his terror he actually did come upon a snake in the yard. His parents thought it only coincidence, although no more snake dreams wakened them after the snake had been disposed of.  But again at six he began to have nightmarish dreams: this time he thought he "fell in a hole." For three weeks he wakened nearly every night, sweating and screaming in fright.  Then, his mother says,

"One day he was playing in our neighbor's yard where there was still snow on the ground. I heard terrible screams coming from what sounded like a long way off. I hurried in the direction of my neighbor's basement.  The screams sounded almost as if coming from underground. Then I saw the hole of an old septic tank with rotted cover, and Steve up to his waist in the water and sinking rapidly. But my neighbor and I got him out, though the water was up to his shoulders before we finally rescued him. I thought dreams coming true were all a bunch of nonsense until this happened."

Hidden Channels of the mind Louisa E Rhine (1961)

The reported dreams were not only about the child themselves.  Some dreamt of their family and friends while others were able to describe in great detail random events which later turned out to be true.  Louisa felt that the claims led her to believe that children had a more hallucinatory version of ESP - meaning what they experienced was a more visual form of receiving the information.  This also meant that when children reported seeing 'ghosts' or imaginary friends, it might be more than just their imagination at play and it could instead be their sixth sense.  Many people claim to have seen their first ghost when they were a young child, some as young as 3 years old.  While we know that our memories are not reliable, especially going back to such a young age, when family members are able to validate this, it becomes all the more interesting.  The very fact that it is something they remember could be a factor here too.  I know I cannot remember last week let alone when I was 3, so is the very fact that it is such a vivid memory of significance?  We need to remember that a child especially of pre-school age in most cases doesn't know a lot about ghosts and spirits, telepathy, or precognitive dreams.  Whatever they experience be it a vision or even if it is just a dream, it all feels very real to the child.  It would be difficult for them to determine what is a dream and what could be an ESP hallucination.  It means in most cases it would often just be written off as a dream to both child and parent.  The child may not even report it to the parent, thinking it was just a scary dream.

As perhaps might be expected, visual hallucinations, particularly those that involve the dying or the dead, are likely to be remembered. Memories of childhood may, of course, be quite unreliable, but when the kind of occurrence remembered is similar to that reported by other adults as a recent happening,such memories gain considerable support.  Another woman in Maine recalls an experience when she was ten that, if not a dream, was hallucinatory. She knew her father had had an operation and was in the hospital, but as she says, "I did not know about death as I had never had anyone die that was close to me. I was sent next door to stay overnight with my girl friend. I woke up and at the foot of the bed was the most beautiful light I had ever seen. There was my father with his arms open to me and as I watched he was rising up. I called tomy girlfriend, telling her my father  was dead. We got up and lit the light. It was just ten after four in the morning; soon my uncle came from the hospital to tell us my father had passed away, and that he called to me as he was dying. He passed away at exactly ten after four. I was a child that knew nothing of death; yet I knew he was gone."

Hidden Channels of the mind Louisa E Rhine (1961)

"The interesting general fact that emerges from studying ESP in children is that their experiences, though simpler, still are similar both in form and type to those of adults. It seems that ESP may be "there" even in childhood." Louisa E Rhine

One of the interesting things I personally find about the work is the element of connection.  It is something that I see as being a vital part of any sort of telepathy.  If you have an emotional connection with a person, you are more in tune and seem to get better results.  When it came to the children, they had some sort of connection to the people associated with their experiences.  If it was an act of telepathy, it was usually a parent.  If it was a precognitive dream, it would be of their parent for example.

A study conducted in the 1970;'s seemed to back up Louisa's claim of the child having a connection with the 'sender'.  In the trial, primary school children were tested with a sender mentally sending images of symbols (much like a Zener card test).  The results score higher when it was the child's teacher sending the images compared to a stranger.

Tests for general extrasensory perception were conducted in the primary and secondary schools. The pupils of the classes involved attempted to record the random order in which a "sender"—their teacher, a stranger, or one of the pupils—looked at five target symbols while screened from the view of the subjects. The number of successful responses was significantly greater than expectation in the primary schools when the teacher was sender, and the total results of the three series completed to date are significant at the .002 level.

Van Busschback, J. B. (1955). ESP in school children. Journal of Parapsychology, 19, 73–81

When I look at it from a paranormal perspective, the connection part still plays a major role.  If you have a group of people together in a room trying to communicate with spirits for example if they are well known to one another and in good spirits (pardon the pun), they report getting better results compared to a room full of strangers that don't really like each other.  A connection could very well be the key to ESP, not just in children, but in all ages.  It is often said by a lot of people that work with children and psychic ability that children are born with this natural ability and as they age if it is not nurtured and encouraged, this 'gift' slowly goes away.  If you are constantly telling a child that what they are seeing is just a dream or their imagination, they of course don't know any different.  People say it is something that is within all of us, so maybe we did all have it as a child but for whatever reason, in some of us it went away.  It is a very interesting concept and while it can be controversial at times, it does make you wonder.  What is an innocent mind capable of?  You don't have to worry about deception or fraud at such a very young age as often they are unaware of the goal.  While children do have a very vivid imagination, is what they are seeing really a form of hallucinatory ESP?

What do you think?  Do you think children naturally have ESP?  Have your kids ever said something that made you think maybe they are seeing something paranormal?


Van Busschback, J. B. (1955). ESP in school children. Journal of Parapsychology, 19, 73–81

Drewes, Athena. (2002). Dr. Louisa Rhine's Letters Revisited: The Children. The Journal of parapsychology. 66. 

Hidden Channels of the mind Louisa E Rhine (1961)

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