Professor makes sense of chaos

Research by a University of Sunderland psychologist has revealed that one in four people may have a special gift for predicting uncertainties like the weather.

Tests carried out by Professor Richard Heath, from the university’s Business School, also showed that this uncanny ability could possibly extend to the financial markets.

During his research volunteers were shown temperature figures for the previous eight days and were asked to predict the following four days.

The figures were generated on a computer. One set of numbers was part of a “chaotic” series similar to real weather patterns, while the other set was random. Random sequences are by nature unpredictable, whereas chaotic sequences follow specific rules. However, they are very hard to predict in practice.

Despite this, one in four volunteers predicted the right temperatures for the next two days. The results amazed Prof Heath who, at present, can offer no definite conclusions as to how this happened.

He says: “The results were quite unbelievable. We still have some work to do to understand what is going on in these peoples’ heads but the results are very promising. We are not talking about people being psychic. But if someone was to say that people can’t predict the future I would say I think they can.

“The prediction accuracy drops off over time, just as it seems to do in weather forecasting. But the best people got the next day’s temperature correct 80pc of the time.”

By building in checks Prof Heath excluded the possibility of people seeing any obvious patterns in the numbers. In other words, they were not able to cheat by assuming that “the weather tomorrow is likely to be the same as the weather today”.

Prof Heath is now planning studies to find out whether the skill is related to personality type or to aspects of intelligence.

If the research helps to prove that some people are sensitive to chaos patterns it could help financial institutions to identify people who could do well as financial traders.

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