A new analysis of people's brain waves when surrounded by different magnetic fields suggests that people have a "sixth sense" for magnetism.
Birds, fish and some other creatures can sense Earth's magnetic field and use it for navigation (SN: 6/14/14, p. 10). Scientists have long wondered whether humans, too, boast this kind of magnetoreception. Now, by exposing people to an Earth-strength magnetic field pointed in different directions in the lab, researchers from the United States and Japan have discovered distinct brain wave patterns that occur in response to rotating the field in a certain way.
These findings, reported in a study published online March 18 in eNeuro, offer evidence that people do subconsciously respond to Earth's magnetic field — although it's not yet clear exactly why or how our brains use this information.
"The first impression when I read the [study] was like, 'Wow, I cannot believe it!'" says Can Xie, a biophysicist at Peking University in Beijing. Previous tests of human magnetoreception have yielded inconclusive results. This new evidence "is one step forward for the magnetoreception field and probably a big step for the human magnetic sense," he says. "I do hope we can see replications and further investigations in the near future."