Anticipating Future Events



Gut feeling or the ability to “sense the future” or “pre-sentiment” has been termed Predictive Anticipatory Activity or PAA. PAA is different from precognition which is defined as “consciously knowing something is going to happen before it does”. PAA is specifically and unconscious process, more exactly an unconscious physiological reactions to a future event and as such it cannot be consciously sensed. There have been over 40 scientific experiments – most of them statistically conclusive, investigating PAA in humans over the past 39 years (Mossbridge, 2012). Predictive Anticipatory Activity is detected by measuring the autonomic body reaction ahead of time of an event. A typical experiment which proved the existence of PAA consist of a simple random guessing game. While a person is involved in the guessing game autonomic body reactions such as skin conductance, heart rate variation or pupil dilatation are measured. Skin conductance, heart rate variation or pupil dilatation are called autonomic body reaction because they cannot be consciously controlled, and are therefore a measure of subconscious activity. The majority of people tested displayed a change of bodily activity according to if they get the quiz right or wrong. Skin conductance or heart rate will increase or decrease based on getting the right or wrong answer. Yet it was noticed that a statistical difference in bodily reaction also occurs before the results appears, that is in the time before the participant makes his or her choice. Skin conductance or heart rate would increase or decrease in quasi identical and significant proportion to the post choice bodily reaction for the exception that this happen in the guessing period, that is before the result of the guess is displayed, showing that the subconscious is in fact anticipating the answer.


Wondered why some people have better intuition that others?


The main characteristic PAA is that the anticipation of future events is a wholly subconscious process because these anticipatory bodily reactions are generally too weak for most people to feel (Tressoldi, 2016). Scientifically the term is coined Interoception. Interoception is defined as the ability to detect subtle changes in bodily systems, including muscles, skin, joints, and viscera. A study by a multidisciplinary team from Cambridge Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, University College London and Cardiff University used a simple guessing game to show that people with better interoceptive skills had much higher predictive ability than people with lower interoceptive ability. In the game participants were shown one card and asked to choose one deck out of four decks of cards and guessed if their card would be the same color as the upturned card or would be a different color. Participants more in tune with their bodily reaction were found to be better at guessing a seemingly random future event. The authors suggested that knowing when to trust and when to disregard such “gut feelings” may be linked to how some of us make optimal choices at key crossroad in life. 



Have you ever wondered why some of us seem to have all the luck and some not? Some entrepreneurs, managers or CEOs seems to repetitively be making the right decision and some go on a path of a never-ending stream of incorrect choices?  A study conducted with CEO’s from different companies, documenting various tasks conducted during the day showed that on average a CEO take around 9 mins to take a decision of various level of importance for the company with only 12% of these decisions taking one hour or more.  The study shows that in those 9 mins, decisions were mostly made based on the gut feeling, or in other words intuition. Dr Richard Wiseman, author of “The Luck Factor” posit that lucky people are in fact not lucky as such, but that they make successful decisions by using their intuition and gut feelings.


Intuition is often better: There has been a mounting wealth of evidence suggesting that unconscious processing i.e. intuition often leads to better decision making, or at least equivalents than those resulting from conscious / thinking process2. Fundamentally most our everyday decision-making process is in fact non-conscious. The unconscious mind decides first, and subsequently the conscious mind post-rationalize our choices.

Luck or Intuition ?

Why are humans equipped with such predictive ability? 


Not much is known on the why nor the how of PAA but a potential explanation is that unconscious processes are much faster processes than conscious processes. In his book “thinking fast and slow Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics laureate Daniel Kahneman explains as human we have two modes of thought: "System 1" is fast, instinctive and emotional while "System 2" is slower, deliberative and rational. Such ability to quickly scan and sense the environment ahead of time may have developed as a lifesaving skill at a time when the world was much more unpredictable. Knutson, B. and Bossaerts findings (2007) suggests that humans may use the same neural machinery to surf the stock exchange that they once used to rummage the savannah (Olds and Fobes, 1981; Schultz et al., 1997). Although ancient, that mechanism has survived evolution and deliver fast, flexible, finely tuned, and fundamental input to our daily decisions.​ ​


Can PAA be explained scientifically?

The answer is that to date there are only attempts, but still no proven scientific explanation of the phenomenon. Einstein’ special theory of relativity posits that “past” and “future” are observer-dependent and that there is no order of events (Einstein, 1920). Surfing on this theory Mossbridge postulates that  “ some physiological processes, which are often not conscious, have access to events that seem to our conscious awareness to occur in the “future” (Mossbridge et al. 2012; Mossbridge et al. 2014).

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