Implicit Cognition: The Ideo Project

What is implicit cognition? 

Implicit cognition can be described as cognition that is beyond our conscious control. This includes all sorts of cognition: from learning, memory, social, emotion, and many more. Given the unconscious nature of this area of study, there are no “direct” ways of studying implicit cognition. In the Ideo project, ideomotor effects are used to further explore the workings of implicit cognition.

Ideomotor effects are actions that are not perceived as intentional, but seem to emerge with no identifiable source; often associated with a sense of involuntariness. They are unconscious movements that happen in response to knowledge or information that you may have come across in the past. A few applications of this ideomotor effect are the ouija board and the hand-held pendulum. A number of research has explored its potential, including research from our own lab. 

This project is currently conducting two studies to explore implicit cognition and ideomotor effects: Ouija and the Swan Protocol. The goal of this project is to test if a device based on the use of the ideomotor effect could bypass explicit cognition and access/study implicit cognition.


The Ouija board has been used as a divination technique to find answers to questions. This is done through putting your hands on the planchette, asking the board a question, then letting the planchette move to the letters/words on the board.

Who is really behind the movements of the planchette? Can this phenomenon be explained by psychology?

This could be explained by ideomotor effects, and in this study we will compare the differences between conscious and unconscious knowledge. Using the ouija board as a medium, we investigate whether your unconscious mind knows more than your conscious mind. Through asking questions to participants and measuring accuracies across experimental modes, a deeper understanding of unconscious knowledge can be achieved.

Swan Protocol

Seeking inspiration from the Ouija sub-project, we hope to find another viable method of accessing unconscious knowledge and further explore the potential of implicit cognition. The Swan technique was developed by Bob Burns, a tool to access unconscious knowledge. This is done through communicating to the hand, and the hand may even produce some unconscious movements in response– making it seem like it has a mind of its own. However, this is not to be confused with hypnosis; there is no hypnosis involved.

This study is currently in it’s beginning stages and actively recruiting participants. As you communicate and ask questions directed to the “swan” (participant’s hand), we observe that there are movements elicited, indicating an answer and response to the question.


Why this project?

The Ideo Project is investigating implicit cognition and whether we can bypass explicit cognition through the use of different devices. If you are interested in getting involved in research and the process that goes behind a study, this could be the project for you.

  • This project covers different aspects that could be explored by a student as part of a research project:
    • Studying what type of thoughts can be expressed through ideomotor actions (e.g. implicit memory, implicit perception).
  • Ability to explore how developing a study looks like, and being able to contribute to a newer project.
  • Learning valuable hard and soft skills that comes with taking part in becoming a researcher and completing analysis.
  • Data analysis, research experience, programming skills (Python…) is an asset but not required.

If you are interested in becoming part of the team, please go here and follow the steps as directed:



Relevant papers

Expression of nonconscious knowledge via ideomotor actions