Illustration for article titled Are EMFs Making You See Ghosts?

For some people, ghosts are a very real part of their daily experiences. Barring spectral visitors from the afterlife, what causes these people to believe they’re being haunted? A research team thought it might be people's sensitivity to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and non-audible sound. So a group of scientists put several people inside a house full of EMFs and infrasounds and tried to haunt them.According to the Daily Grail, the scientists from Goldsmith College’s Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit got mixed results with their EMF-laced house:

Recent research has suggested that a number of environmental factors may be associated with a tendency for susceptible individuals to report mildly anomalous sensations typically associated with ‘‘haunted’’ locations, including a sense of presence, feeling dizzy, inexplicable smells, and so on. Factors that may be associated with such sensations include fluctuations in the electromagnetic field (EMF) and the presence of infrasound. A review of such work is presented, followed by the results of the "Haunt" project in which an attempt was made to construct an artificial "haunted" room by systematically varying such environmental factors.


Unfortunately, when the team tested this theory, they came up ghostless. They asked 79 participants to walk through their haunted house and record if and where they experienced any unusual sensations. While some participants did feel such sensations, the locations in the house where they felt the sensations did not correlate with the locations the team had “haunted,” suggesting the sensations were caused more by the power of suggestion than electromagnetic fields. But other researchers have had more luck summoning ghosts with EMF. Michael Persinger, a neuroscientist at Laurentian University, published a study on a brain damaged girl who reported frequent nocturnal visits from an apparition. Reports Scientific American:

When Persinger and his colleagues investigated (at the behest of the girl's mother), they found an electric clock next to the bed that was about 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) from where she placed her head when she slept. Tests showed that the clock generated electromagnetic pulses with waveforms similar to those found to trigger epileptic seizures in rats and humans. When the clock was removed, the visions stopped. Persinger determined that the clock, in combination with the girl's brain injury, were highly likely to have been contributing factors to the perceived nocturnal visits.


Regardless of the cause, the notions of ghosts and haunting do have a measured effect on our psyches. In 2005, a study published in Human Nature had participants take a test on which they were given the opportunity to cheat. Some of the test takers were told the room was haunted, while the others were not. The students in the haunted group were overwhelmingly less likely to cheat than the non-haunted group, suggesting that, even if they didn’t fear ghostly retribution, they still had the uneasy feeling that someone might be watching them. The 'Haunt' Project [Daily Grail] Ghost Lusters: If You Want to See a Specter Badly Enough, Will You? [Scientific American] Spooky Science: Does a Fear of Ghosts Help Keep Us Honest? [Scientific American]

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