Article Review: An investigation into alleged ‘hauntings’
Article Review: An investigation into alleged ‘hauntings’
Elliott Van Dusen
Rhine Education Center
Eight (8) Important Studies in Parapsychology
July 6, 2020
This journal article review was completed as part of the requirements for the Rhine Education Center’s Eight (8) Important Studies in Parapsychology course. This article, An investigation into alleged ‘hauntings’, was written by Dr. Richard Wiseman, Dr. Caroline Watt, Dr. Paul Stevens, Dr. Emma Greening and Dr. Ciarán O’Keefee. Their qualitative study employed a quasi-experimental, concurrent two-studies design with a cross validation process to corroborate findings. This study is relevant to the social science discipline of parapsychology because its findings suggest that some alleged haunting activity can occur as a result of normal environmental influences on human perception.
Keywords: parapsychology, hauntings, survival of bodily death, apparitions
An investigation into alleged ‘hauntings’
This article was selected for review as a result of the author’s interest in survival of bodily death. Survival of bodily death is a branch of the social science discipline of parapsychology. This topic is important to study because survival of bodily death has yet to be definitely proven or disproven by science. Proof of survival of bodily death would have global implications.
Statement of Problem
The researchers acknowledged that “haunting” activity can sometimes be explained through naturally occurring environmental conditions, while at other times, it remains unexplained through the lived experiences of trustworthy witnesses. Researchers explored the possibility of survival of bodily death while contributing to the theoretical understanding of psychological phenomena, psychophysiological phenomena and the controversial area of environmental illnesses (Wiseman et al., 2003).
The researchers relied partly on the work conducted by Lange et al. (1996) which states that ghost experiences involve “a diverse range of phenomena, including apparitions, unusual orders, sudden changes in temperature, and a strong sense of presence” (Wiseman et al., 2003, p. 195). The best haunting cases last several years and involve a large number of trustworthy witnesses who report unusual phenomena. Roberts (1990) suggests that haunted locations are people responding to the presence of a discarnate spirit (as cited in Wiseman et al., 2003).
Researchers also relied on literature relating to known environmental factors which have produced haunting effects in controlled laboratory settings, such as low frequency sound waves (Tandy, 2000; Tandy & Lawrence, 1998), radioactivity (Radin & Roll, 1994), and local magnetic fields (Roll & Persinger, 2001) (as cited in Wiseman et al., 2003). Lange et al. (1996) also conducted studies which resulted in haunting characteristics being possibly attributed to a form of ‘environmental cues’ present at haunted locations (as cited in Wiseman et al., 2003).
Hypotheses To Be Tested
In Experiment I, the researchers predicted that the percentage of experiences reported in the ‘haunted’ areas at Hampton Court Palace, the Haunted Gallery and the Georgian Rooms respectively, would be significantly above chance. Researchers also had a ‘prior knowledge’ hypotheses believing that individuals who had prior knowledge of the area being haunted would report a greater percentage of experiences in the ‘haunted’ areas than those with little or no previous knowledge. Researchers also predicted that there would be a significant difference in the mean magnetic field strength and variance in the ‘haunted’ areas compared to the ‘control’ areas. Lastly, researchers predicted that there would be a significant correlation between the number of unusual experiences reported and the mean strength and variance of the magnetic field in the ‘haunted’ areas (Wiseman et al., 2003).
With respect to Experiment II, researchers predicted that the location of past haunt reports would be predictive of the location of haunt reports during the current study. Based on the results of Experiment I, researchers predicted that the correlation between the haunted vaults of South Bridge and the mean number of experiences reported would be significant among participants who indicated no prior knowledge of the vaults. Lastly, researchers believed there would be a significant correlation between variables (e.g., magnetic field, air temperate, air movement, the vaults’ interior lighting, the lighting level directly outside the entrance to the vaults, floorspaces of the values and their heights), and the mean number of reported experiences in each vault (Wiseman et al., 2003).
Experiment I had 678 participants initially; however, 131 participants were excluded due to incomplete data on questionnaires. The remaining 462 participants comprised of 163 males and 299 females ranging in age from seven to 82 with a mean age of 35. The 462 participants were divided into 36 groups. Out of the 36 groups, 18 groups attended the Haunted Gallery while the other 18 groups attended the Georgian Rooms (Wiseman et al., 2003).
Experiment II had 248 participants comprised of 91 males and 127 females ranging in age from 11 to 77 with a mean age of 35.3. Each participant attended one of the 24 sessions in groups of upwards of 10 participants (Wiseman et al., 2003).
Experiment I used two Linkert scale questionnaires. Questionnaire 1 rated to what degree (definitely yes, probably yes, uncertain, probably no, definitely no), the participant was aware that the Haunted Gallery or Georgian Rooms had experienced unusual phenomena. Questionnaire 2 asked participants to write a brief description of any unusual phenomena they experienced while walking around either the Haunted Gallery or Georgian Rooms. They were then asked to document whether or not they believed the experience was due to a ghost on a 5-point Linkert scale (definitely yes, probably yes, uncertain, probably no, definitely no) (Wiseman et al., 2003).
Experiment II also used two Linkert scale questionnaires. Questionnaire 1 asked participants if they had heard where in the vaults individuals have experienced unusual phenomena using a 3-point Linkert scale (yes, uncertain, no). Questionnaire 2 instructed participants to spend a few minutes in a vault and report any experienced phenomena, no matter how faint (e.g., temperature changes, smells, tastes, sense of a presence). The questionnaire contained four boxes in which participants were asked to document their experiences in one of the boxes. Participants were then asked to document whether or not they believed the experience was due to a ghost on a 5-point Linkert scale (definitely yes, probably yes, uncertain, probably no, definitely no) (Wiseman et al., 2003).
The researchers selected two well-known haunted locations in order to conduct two experiments. The first location was Hampton Court Palace which has been dubbed one of the most haunted places in England. The second location was the South Bridge Vaults in Edinburgh, Scotland which has had a number of unusual experiences reported including “a strong sense of presence, several apparitions and ‘ghostly’ footsteps” (Wiseman et al., 2003, p. 196).
The researchers took baseline local magnetic field readings with technology and computer equipment. Participants took part in one of three daily sessions held over the course of six days. Each session contained a maximum of 40 participants. Group 1 was assigned to the Haunted Gallery while Group 2 was assigned to the Georgian Rooms. Questionnaire 1 was completed asking about prior knowledge of the area being haunted. Dr. Wiseman gave a brief lecture on scientific research into ghosts. The historical tale of Catherine Howard’s tragic death was also told by Dr. Wiseman, but he excluded the locations in which haunting experiences had been reported. The participants were escorted by a research assistant to their assigned areas. Once escorted to either the Haunted Gallery or Georgian Rooms, the participants were free to walk around the location and complete Questionnaire 2. Participants were informed that they could terminate the experiment at any point, however, none elected to do so (Wiseman et al., 2003).
Participants took part in one of six daily sessions held over the course of four days. Each session contained a maximum of 10 participants. Dr. Wiseman handed out numbered clipboards to participants in a random fashion. Questionnaire 1 was completed asking about prior knowledge of the area being haunted. Dr. Wiseman gave a brief lecture on scientific research into ghosts. Participants were taken to their assigned vault (e.g., participant 1 was assigned to vault 1). Participants spent approximately 10 minutes in the vault before completing Questionnaire 2. Participants were informed that they could terminate the experiment at any point, in which two participants elected to do so (Wiseman et al., 2003).
Participants reported 431 unusual experiences: 189 (43.8%) of these experiences were reported in the Haunted Gallery while 242 (56.2%) were reported in the Georgian Rooms. 215 participants (46.5%) reported at least one experience. Approximately two thirds of participants reported an unusual change in temperature while the remaining one third reported: a feeling of dizziness; headaches; sickness; shortness of breath; some form of force; a foul odour; sense of a presence; and intense emotional feelings. Eight (3.72%) of participants marked “definitely yes” and 22 (10.23%) of participants marked “probably yes” when asked if they thought the experiences were from a ghost (Wiseman et al., 2003).
Participants reported 172 unusual experiences: 95 (45.58%) participants reported at least one experience. The majority of participants reported an unusual change in temperature while others reported descriptions of apparitions, a strong sense of being watched, burning sensations, strange sounds, and odd odours. One (0.67%) of participants marked “definitely yes” and 4 (2.67%) of participants marked “probably yes” when asked if they thought the experiences were from a ghost (Wiseman et al., 2003).
In Experiment I, both Group 1 and Group 2 participants reported significantly more unusual experiences in the ‘haunted’ areas of Haunted Gallery and the Georgian Rooms. This supports unusual occurrences happening in the locations historically known to be haunted. Furthermore, the results of Questionnaire 1 are indicative that prior knowledge was not significant and did not support the notion that unusual experiences were being reported due to prior knowledge. Lastly, there was a significant relationship between the magnetic variance and the mean number of unusual experiences reported by participant groups. This is consistent with previous research which suggests there is some sort of relationship between local magnetic field activity and haunting reports (Wiseman et al., 2003).
In Experiment II, there was a significant correlation between the known haunted areas and the mean number of experiences reported in each vault, similar to the correlation in Experiment I. This supports haunting experiences at historically known areas of the South Bridge Vaults. Experiment II produced similar results to Experiment I with respect to prior knowledge not being a significant factor in the reporting of unusual experiences. However, unlike Experiment I, Experiment II did not have a significant positive correlation between magnetic variance and the unusual experiences being reported by participants (Wiseman et al., 2003).
Implications for Parapsychologists
The study from Wiseman et al. (2003) showed promising results that human participants experience unusual occurrences in localities that are “known” to be haunted. In contrast, there is inconsistent data which adds ambiguity to the debate that the haunting phenomena can cause an environmental effect, or vice versa, at least in the data from Experiment II. Belief in the paranormal has been the subject of many studies resulting in a correlation between belief and paranormal experiences (Glicksohn, 1990). Wiseman et al. (2003) had consistent results that prior knowledge of haunted localities does not necessarily effect paranormal experiences.
The hypotheses in Experiment I were supported, resulting in the ‘haunted’ areas at Hampton Court Palace, the Haunted Gallery and the Georgian Rooms respectively, being significantly above chance. Researchers disproved their ‘prior knowledge’ hypotheses as participants who had prior knowledge of the area being haunted did not report a greater percentage of experiences. Experiment I had a significant difference in the mean magnetic field strength and variance in the ‘haunted’ areas compared to the ‘control’ areas in which participants experienced unusual experiences. (Wiseman et al., 2003).
The hypothesis that the haunted vault locations would be correlated to participants’ experiences was established for Experiment II. However, the hypotheses that a significant correlation would be found between haunted vaults and environmental variables and haunted vaults and prior knowledge were both unsubstantiated. (Wiseman et al., 2003).
Overall, the study by Wiseman et al. (2003) was well constructed. Researchers limited sampling errors by eliminating participants through incomplete questionnaires. Experimenters and research assistants were also blind to what areas were classified as “haunted” and what areas were classified as “control” in order to prevent experimenter bias. Areas mapped for their magnetic fields were also kept blind from experimenters and assistants.
A criticism that stands out in Experiment II is the confounding variable of visual features in the environment of the vaults which may have caused individuals to experience unusual experiences. Researchers found the position of the vaults were positively correlated to the light level directly outside the vault, floorspace and height. The mean number of unusual experiences reported in the vaults were also positively correlated with exterior light levels and heights. Furthermore, visual features may have induced mild psychosomatic and hallucinatory experiences in the participants based on the stereotypes of a typically haunted environment. Transitioning from a well-lit corridor to a much darker vault in which the participant remained for a period of time, may have resulted in the unusual phenomena associated with mild sensory deprivation. Researchers also noted that high vaults may have caused participants to feel uneasy and the lighting conditions may have attributed to the production of unusual shadows resulting in the reporting of at least some of the unusual experiences (Wiseman et al., 2003).
For Further Study
Parapsychological literature supports a correlation between environmental factors and haunting experiences. Whether or not the latter causes the former remains undetermined by parapsychologists. A further study should be conducted in order to compare, contrast and attempt to replicate similar results obtained by Wiseman et al. (2003). The researchers themselves recommend that “future work should attempt to tease apart these competing interpretations of the phenomena by recording the number of unusual experiences reported by participants whilst systematically manipulating lighting levels and the variance of local magnetic fields” (Weiseman et al., 2003, p. 209).
Glicksohn, J. (1990). Belief in the paranormal and subjective paranormal experience. Personality and Individual Differences, 11(7), 675-683. doi:10.1016/0191-8869(90)90252-M
Wiseman, R., Watt, C., Stevens, P., Greening, E., & O’Keeffee C. O. (2003). An investigation into alleged ‘hauntings’. British Journal of Psychology, 94(2), 191-211. doi:10.1348/000712603321661886