Testing telepathy: Pain and Taste

23rd June 2024. Reading Time: 8 minutes General, Paranormal Theories. 873 page views. 0 comments.

For decades, academics and Scientists have tried different ways to test if people were capable of sending and receiving messages on a telepathic level. Let's look at pain and taste sensations.

For decades, academics and Scientists have tried different ways to test if people were capable of sending and receiving messages on a telepathic level. 

One of the first tests occurred in the late 1800's by W.F Barrett who was researching the claims of thought transference mentioned in my article Thought Transference.  Barrett was soon made aware of the Cleery sisters, a group of 5 siblings who had what was described as a “striking capacity to guess words, numbers or objects which were hidden either in another room or under a cloth”.  By looking toward where the hidden object was, they claimed to have a high success rate in telepathically identifying the item.  To test if this were true, Barrett used playing cards or similar, to see if the subject could successfully identify the card.  Similar to the willing game tests, a card was selected in another room. When the subject was then called into the room, Barrett asked her to name what card came to mind.  The initial testing rates were quite high. Testing continued on various occasions over the span of a year.  The success rate seemed to decrease over time, however the results were still impressive enough to continue.

Towards the end of the investigations, the researchers involved found that the girls had found a way to signal each other with cues to assist them to make the correct guesses.

In a second series of experiments made by psychical researchers Fredric Myers and Edmund Gurney, they recruited two ladies to assist who were unknown to the Cleery family.  It meant that no one could know what items were going to be chosen while every precaution was taken to ensure that there was no signalling or the opportunity for a person to be influenced.   The experiments took place on the 13th of April 1882, (which in a completely unrelated matter is exactly 100 years to the day that I was born).  Maybe that is why I feel such a connection to telepathy trials.  

A full deck of cards was used giving the following results:
•  9 out of 14 trials were guessed correctly with 3 trials considered a complete failure
•  There was a 5 in 1 chance of correctly guessing the card
•  Out of 450 trials using cards and numbers, 260 of these used playing cards

While it was admitted that signalling had taken place, researchers felt that this only seemed to occur when the success rates had dropped.  While researchers still believe these results are worth taking notice of, the trials are largely deemed discredited due to the deception involved.

While Barrett was involved in using playing cards to test telepathy and thought transference, he was also involved in trials to see if a person could mentally transfer the sensation of taste and pain to another.

Pain and taste mental transference

To test if pain and taste could be transmitted mentally, trials took place in both a hypnotic and a normal state.  20 strong-tasting substances were put into small bottles which were kept out of sight of the receiver.  Extra special care was taken to prevent the receiver from accidentally smelling the contents. Strong odours were avoided for this reason.

The receiver was seated with their back to the agent (who was overseeing the experiment) and was blindfolded.  Then there was a taster (who also acted as the sender) that was positioned outside of the room.  They would take a small qty of a substance, put it in their mouth and return to the room.  They would then place their hand on the shoulder of the receiver to mentally transfer the taste to the receiver, who would then call out what they tasted.  No one else was allowed to speak during the experiment so that no one could be influenced or prompted.

On one occasion, when the sender tasted vinegar, the receiver said she felt “a sharp and nasty taste”.  The sender then sampled mustard to which the receiver stated, “I now taste mustard”.  The taste of mustard supposedly tainted the rest of this particular trial.   The receiver could only taste mustard for the rest of the trial that day.  The overall trial was considered to be a success despite some failures.  It was determined that the success rate was beyond what could be considered as pure luck. Barrett does acknowledge in his findings that there is no way to tell if a person has a heightened sense of smell and was simply able to determine the taste from smelling the contents from afar.

The next step was to see if pain could also be transferred amongst two people.  Dr Herdman F.R.S who was a professor of Natural History at the University of Liverpool was present to witness these trials.  A participant by the name of Miss Ralph was seated with her back to two investigators.  They agreed to inflict pain on themselves for the purpose of the experiment without making any contact with Miss Ralph.  Out of 20 trials conducted, in 10 Miss Ralph felt localised pain with great precision.  In 6 of these trials, she identified the location of pain almost exactly.  In the remaining 4 trials, she felt nothing or the area she specified was completely wrong.

Random sensations of pain and taste

In his book "Apparitions and Thought-Transference : an Examination of the Evidence for Telepathy", Frank Podmore writes about what is considered to be spontaneous thought-transference.  In the above, we have looked at very deliberate tests to transfer pain or taste.  What about however when it seems to happen spontaneously?


October 27th, 1883.

"I woke up with a start, feeling I had had a hard blow on my mouth, and with a distinct sense that I had been cut and was bleeding under my upper lip, and seized my pocket-handkerchief, and held it (in a little pushed lump) to the part, as I sat up in bed, and after a few seconds, when I removed it, I was astonished not to see any blood, and only then realised it was impossible anything could have struck me there, as I lay fast asleep in bed, and so I thought it was only a dream!—but I looked at my watch, and saw it was seven, and finding Arthur (my husband) was not in the room, I concluded (rightly) that he must have gone out on the lake for an early sail, as it was so fine.

"I then fell asleep. At breakfast (half-past nine), Arthur came in rather late, and I noticed he rather purposely sat farther away from me than usual, and every now and then put his pocket-handkerchief furtively up to his lip, in the very way I had done. I said, 'Arthur, why are you doing that?' and added a little anxiously, 'I know you've hurt yourself! but I'll tell you why afterwards.' He said, 'Well, when I was sailing, a sudden squall came, throwing the tiller suddenly round, and it struck me a bad blow in the mouth, under the upper lip, and it has been bleeding a good deal and won't stop.' I then said, 'Have you any idea what o'clock it was when it happened?' and he answered, 'It must have been about seven.'

"I then told what had happened to me, much to his surprise, and all who were with us at breakfast.

"It happened here about three years ago at Brantwood, to me.


Mr. Severn wrote to us on the 15th November 1883, giving an account of the trivial accident described by the percipient, and adding that after leaving the boat he

"walked up to the house, anxious of course to hide as much as possible what had happened to my mouth, and getting another handkerchief walked into the breakfast-room, and managed to say something about having been out early. In an instant my wife said, 'You don't mean to say you have hurt your mouth?' or words to that effect. I then explained what had happened, and was surprised to see some extra interest on her face, and still more surprised when she told me she had started out of her sleep thinking she had received a blow on the mouth! and that it was a few minutes past seven o'clock, and wondered if my accident had happened at the same time; but as I had no watch with me I couldn't tell, though, on comparing notes, it certainly looked as if it had been about the same time.

(Phantasms of the Living, vol. i. pp, 188, 189.)

Paranormal pain and taste

Often on a paranormal investigation, people will claim to taste something or feel pain that is not their own.  Many sensitive people believe that this is a spirit projecting this sensation onto them.  Whether or not this is the case, it leans more weight into the theory that spirits are more telepathic interaction rather than a physical manifestation.  Telepathy relies on a sender and a receiver.  If a spirit is indeed the consciousness of someone who was once living, then it makes sense that they would be able to 'transmit' their message in this case pain or taste via telepathy. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this intriguing topic?  Do you think spirits can transfer pain and taste?  If so is it an act or telepathy or something else?  Do you think people can unknowingly receive these signals like the above?


The Spectacle of Illusion: Magic, The Paranormal & The Complicity of the mind Matthew L Tompkins 2019

Psychical Research by W.F. Barrett, F.R.S. Professor of experimental physics in the Royal College of Science For Ireland, 1973-1910

Apparitions and Thought-Transference : an Examination of the Evidence for Telepathy / by Frank Podmore (1894)

Photo by Lisett Kruusimäe: https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-in-halloween-ghost-costumes-having-picnic-in-park-14043008/

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