Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Possible Brain Area for OBE's?

Recently there has been a notable increase in the number of research articles relating to the study of out-of-body experiences (OBEs) that have been published in the mainstream literature. Most of these articles have focused on the search for the areas of the brain that may be associated with one common feature of the OBE – seeing one’s own body from a distance. The latest contribution to this search comes from a team of neurosurgeons led by Dr. Dirk De Ridder from the University Hospital of Antwerp, Belgium, and their findings are reported in a case study that was just published in the November 1 issue of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (De Ridder et al., 2007). Their report appears to build upon earlier brain studies related to the artificial induction of features often associated with OBEs.

The history of such studies dates back to the early 1940s, when Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield was able to induce OBE-like sensations in a female epileptic patient by electrically stimulating the right side of her brain in the area around the superior temporal gyrus, a fold along the upper surface of the temporal lobe across the way from the parietal lobe (Penfield & Erickson, 1941). The patient had the feeling of floating away and stated, “I have a queer sensation as if I am not here…As though I were half here and half not here.” Penfield’s work was rediscovered in late 2002 when Dr. Olaf Blanke and his associates at the University Hospital of Geneva, Switzerland, were able to induce similar floating sensations in a female patient being treated for complex partial epilepsy. Electrodes had been implanted into the right side of the patient’s brain around the angular gyrus, an area located at the boundary between the temporal and parietal lobes, to measure her seizures. When she was given mild electrical stimulation in this area via the electrodes, the patient reported instant feelings of “lightness” and “floating” close to the ceiling, and stated, “I see myself lying in bed, from above, but I only see my legs and lower trunk” (Blanke et al., 2002). Blanke and his associates were able to further explore OBEs, as well as the similar experience of autoscopy [1], in this patient and four other neurologic patients in a later study, finding that the patients’ experiences may be associated with damage or impairment in the area surrounding the temporal-parietal lobe junction (Blanke et al., 2004). The area around the temporal-parietal junction appears to be involved in the culling together and processing of sensory information relating to the perception and spatial orientation of one’s own body [2], and Blanke and his associates theorize that OBE-like perceptual illusions may arise from functional disruption as a result of the brain damage or impairment in this area (Blanke et al., 2004, 2005; Blanke & Mohr, 2005).

The latest case study by De Ridder et al. (2007) conceptually reproduces the work of Blanke and his associates. The study involves a 63-year-old male patient being treated for tinnitus [3] by way of electrodes implanted in the area over the temporal-parietal junction. When the right side of his brain was electrically stimulated through the electrodes, the patient experienced a sensation that gave him the impression that his self had separated from his body, moving to a location just behind and to the left of his body. He did not, however, report taking the perspective of his separated “out-of-body” self (i.e., he was still seeing his surroundings from within his own body), nor did he report seeing an image of his own body. On average, the patient’s sensation of leaving the body lasted about 17 seconds, and no changes in his state of consciousness occurred during them. Brain scans using positron-emission tomography (PET) revealed widespread activity in the area around the temporal-parietal junction, near the angular gyrus.

Although the study by De Ridder et al. does provide useful supplementary data on the function of the temporal-parietal junction, I personally think that labeling the patient’s induced sensation as an OBE is something of a misnomer. As noted, the patient did not perceive his surroundings from outside his body, nor did he report seeing his own body, suggesting that his sensations did not take on the classic structure of an OBE. The patient’s separated self was always stationary, and could not be moved voluntarily, whereas people often report being able to move about freely in their out-of-body form in natural OBEs.

Similar arguments can be made about the induced OBE-like sensation in Blanke et al.’s epileptic patients. A close look at their experiences reveals illusory features (e.g., perceiving distortions of the body and shadowy figures) that are not commonly found in natural OBEs and are more suggestive of hallucinations. Thus, the features of naturally occurring OBEs in healthy people and the OBE-like experiences in these epileptic patients can be considered different, and may not be easily comparable. Some attempt has recently been made to artificially induce similar OBE-like perceptions of the body in healthy people, although this has been through the use of virtual reality (Ehrsson, 2007; Lenggenhager et al., 2007), which again does not allow for direct comparisons. Perhaps most central of all, the findings of Blanke et al. and De Ridder et al. still cannot adequately account for ESP-related OBEs in which individuals describe people and events at a distance that are later verified as accurate (Alvarado, 2000, pp. 199 – 200; Tart, 1998), nor can they account for the successful results of studies where some aspect of the OBE was “detected” using physical and animal detectors (Morris et al., 1978; Osis & McCormick, 1980). In the case of Blanke et al., the EEG findings of Tart (1998) and others (Alvarado, 2000, pp. 189 – 190) have yet to be incorporated into their theoretical considerations as to their possible role [4]. In short, while these recent mainstream studies go a way in advancing our knowledge about brain areas involved in body perception, they still have miles to go in adequately explaining complex OBEs.

- Bryan Williams


[1] Autoscopy is a neurological phenomenon in which an individual reports seeing an illusory duplicate image of their own body in physical space. It has also been traditionally known as the doppelgänger, or “double,” experience. It is distinguished from the OBE in that the individual still perceives their surroundings from a perspective within their own body (whereas the individual perceives things from a perspective somewhere outside their body in the OBE).

[2] This would be consistent with the area’s proximity to the somatosensory cortex, located in the parietal lobe, which processes incoming sensory information from the body’s sensory organs.

[3] Tinnitus is a chronic hearing condition in which noises such as buzzing or ringing are frequently heard in the ear, which in this patient’s case may be caused by an abnormality in the auditory nerve and/or its brain connections.

[4] These EEG studies, conducted with relaxed or sleeping individuals, have found that OBEs tend to be associated with brain wave patterns in the alpha wave range with no rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, suggesting that they occur during a relaxed, sensory-reduced state; and that they are not dream-related.


Alvarado, C. S. (2000). Out-of-body experiences. In E. Cardeña, S. J. Lynn, & S. Krippner (Eds.) Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence (pp. 183 – 218). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, Inc.

Blanke, O., Landis, T., Spinelli, L., & Seeck, M. (2004). Out-of-body experience and autoscopy of neurological origin. Brain 127(2), March. pp. 243 – 258.

Blanke, O., & Mohr, C. (2005). Out-of-body experience, heautoscopy, and autoscopic hallucination of neurological origin: Implications for neurocognitive mechanisms of corporeal awareness and self consciousness. Brain Research Reviews 50(1), December 1. pp. 184 – 199.

Blanke, O., Mohr, C., Michel, C. M., Pascual-Leone, A., Brugger, P., Seeck, M., Landis, T., & Thut, G. (2005). Linking out-of-body experience and self processing to mental own-body imagery at the temporoparietal junction. Journal of Neuroscience 25(3), January 19. pp. 550 – 557.

Blanke, O., Ortigue, S., Landis, T., & Seeck, M. (2002). Stimulating illusory own-body perceptions. Nature 419(6904), September 19. pp. 269 – 270.

De Ridder, D., Van Laere, K., Dupont, P., Menovsky, T., & Van de Heyning, P. (2007). Visualizing out-of-body experience in the brain. New England Journal of Medicine 357(18), November 1. pp. 1829 – 1833.

Ehrsson, H. H. (2007). The experimental induction of out-of-body experiences. Science 317(5841), August 24. p. 1048.

Lenggenhager, B., Tadi, T., Metzinger, T., & Blanke, O. (2007). Video ergo sum: Manipulating bodily self-consciousness. Science 317(5841), August 24. pp. 1096 – 1099.

Morris, R. L., Harary, S. B., Janis, J., Hartwell, J., & Roll, W. G. (1978). Studies of communication during out-of-body experiences. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 72(1), January. pp. 1 – 21.

Osis, K., & McCormick, D. (1980). Kinetic effects at the ostensible location of an out-of-body projection during perceptual testing. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 74(3), July. pp. 319 – 329.

Penfield, W., & Erickson, T. C. (1941). Epilepsy and Cerebral Localization. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

Tart, C. T. (1998). Six studies of out-of-body experiences. Journal of Near-Death Studies 17(2), Winter. pp. 73 – 99.

The Return of the Trickster

AfterLifeFM is back in action, presenting an interview with George P. Hansen, parapsychologist, blogger, and author of The Trickster and the Paranormal. The interview features a guest appearance by yours truly, as well as a reprise of the Annalisa Polka. George is a very interesting fellow and a good speaker with a unique perspective, so be sure to listen in.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Language and Anomalous Experiences: Dr. Robin Wooffitt

In the September 2007 issue of the British Journal of Social Psychology, a paper reporting findings from a conversational analytic study of experimenter-participant interactions in parapsychology experiments was presented by Dr. Robin Wooffitt, a senior lecturer in the sociology department at the University of York. In the paper, Dr. Wooffitt discusses how the ways in which experimenters acknowledge participants utterances may be significant for the trajectory of an experimental session.

Dr. Wooffitt used recorded sessions from double-blind ganzfeld experiments conducted in the mid 1990's at the Koeslter Parapsychology Unit (University of Edinburgh) as the material for his analysis. Shortly after the study appeared in print, the BPS Research Digest released a summary at their blog, suggesting that Dr. Wooffitt had uncovered a flaw in the ganzfeld. This summary spread through the internet like wildfire. Soon the blogs Mind Hacks and Science and Consciousness Review were also reporting on the study, suggesting that Dr. Wooffitt had provided an analysis that had explained away the positive results of those ganzfeld experiments. Anybody who does a close reading of the paper (or even the abstract) can see that this is not the case.

Because Dr. Wooffitt's research had been severely misrepresented by these and other sites, I contacted him and invited to discuss his research and its goals here at Public Parapsychology. The following was his response:

"There seems to be some confusion about the purpose and results of my on-going research on verbal interaction in ganzfeld parapsychology experiments. This is due to a misleading summary on the website of the British Psychological Society of an article I published in one of the Society's journals (Wooffitt, R. (2007) ‘Interaction and laboratory experience: observations from parapsychological data.’ British Journal of Social Psychology. 46(3) 477-501). This summary was written without my knowledge and with no input from me. It gave the impression that the analysis presented in the paper stands as sceptical critique of the ganzfeld. When Annalisa drew my attention to the website summary I contacted the BPS immediately and asked for it to be withdrawn and rewritten, which it was. However, Annalisa has kindly allowed me to provide a brief account of the history and goals of the research in case there is any lingering misunderstanding.

My research concerns, broadly, the relationship between language and anomalous experiences. For example my PhD (part funded by the Society for Psychical Research) was a study of how people describe spontaneous experiences. Round about 2000, I became interested in interaction in parapsychology laboratories. I was able to spend 2001-2 as a Visiting Fellow in the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh. The then head of the Unit, Professor Bob Morris, kindly provided access to some of the KPU ganzfeld data, and, with support from the Bial Foundation, I have been working on these data since (in amongst other projects).

The goal of the research is to identify the tacit communicative skills which participants - experimenters and subjects - use in the ganzfeld. The research is agnostic as to the existence of psi; but it may identify features of experimenter-subject interaction which could be of direct benefit for parapsychologists. So, this kind of linguistic analysis can add to our knowledge of the experimenter effect, in that it can provide technical analysis of the way the relationship between subject and experimenter develops over the course of a ganzfeld trial. It can identify different interactional styles in experimenters, which may in turn influence the way the experiment progresses. It may be possible, eventually, to see if particular interactional practices correlate with successful or unsuccessful ganzfeld trials.

When I publish the findings from this research in social science journals, it is important to address concerns that are relevant to their audiences (otherwise they wouldn't get published). The main focus of the paper that was summarised so badly, for example, used the parapsychology data to explore broader aspects of the interpersonal dynamics of laboratory practice, an issue that is important in social psychology. But when I publish in mainstream social science journals, I try to include a review of the efforts of parapsychologists and the results of their work. This way, academic audiences who have no knowledge of parapsychology are at least exposed to what I hope are balanced accounts of serious scientific investigation into anomalous experiences."

Anyone interested in this work can consult the article in the British Journal of Social Psychology, or any of the following:

Allistone, S. and Wooffitt, R. (2007) ‘Negotiating consciousness: parapsychology and the social organisation of reports of mental states’ in A. Hepburn and S. Wiggins (eds.) Discursive Research in Practice: New Approaches to Psychology and Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 70-87.

Wooffitt, R. (2005) ‘Language and the study of parapsychological phenomena’ in M. A. Thalbourne and L. Storm (eds.) Parapsychology in the 21st Century : Essays on the Future of Psychical Research. North Carolina and London: McFarland, 305-336.

Wooffitt, R., and Allistone, S. (2005) ‘Towards a discursive parapsychology: language and the laboratory study of anomalous communication.’ Theory and Psychology 15:3, 325-355.

Wooffitt, R. (2003) ‘Conversation analysis and parapsychology: experimenter-subject interaction in ganzfeld experiments.’ Journal of Parapsychology. 67: 299-324.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Interview George P. Hansen

This week, Marcel Cairo will be interviewing author, parapsychologist and magician George P. Hansen on his podcast AfterlifeFM. The show will be recorded this weekend, but broadcasted next week. AfterlifeFM is typically a live call-in show, but because of a scheduling conflict, this week is an exception. Therefore Marcel has set up at toll free number (1-877-372-5367) where people can record their questions for George.


George P. Hansen was professionally employed in parapsychology laboratories for eight years—three at the Rhine Research Center in Durham, North Carolina, and five at Psychophysical Research Laboratories in Princeton, New Jersey. His experiments included remote viewing, card guessing, ganzfeld, electronic random number generators, séance phenomena, and ghosts. He has been active in a number of psychic, UFO, and New Age organizations, and he helped found a skeptics group.

His papers in scientific journals cover mathematical statistics, fraud and deception, the skeptics movement, conjurors in parapsychology, and exposés of hoaxes. He is a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.

George has also published a book called The Trickster and the Paranormal, and he has recently entered the world of blogging, sharing his insights at The Paranormal Trickster Blog.

Some of you may remember Marcel's interview with me back in July (my first interview ever!). Now he's giving the public an opportunity to interview a true authority in the field of parapsychology, so call in with whichever question might be on your mind.

Again, the number is
1-877-372-5367. In case you flub your question, you can hit the pound sign and start over. All submissions should be received by Saturday night.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Haunting Primer PDF

Our three-part series on magnetic fields and haunting phenomena was very popular here at Public Parapsychology. In the series, we discussed the current scientific literature on geomagnetism, electromagnetism, and the relationship of these magnetic fields to haunting experiences. The discussion was followed by some tips on measuring magnetic fields and a valuable list of references for the interested researcher. The series has been combined into a single, downloadable pdf for ease of sharing and printing. We hope that this primer will be a useful guide to those undertaking their own investigations, and welcome your comments and suggestions for future articles.

Magnetic Fields and Haunting Phenomena: A Basic Primer for Paranormal Enthusiasts

A Brain Response to a Future Event?

Whenever we suddenly encounter something that frightens or startles us, our body has a tendency to "jump" in response. Over the past decade, a considerable amount of evidence has been gathered to suggest that, on a very subtle and unconscious level, our body’s autonomic nervous system may also "jump" in response to frightening or startling stimuli. However, it does so even before our body encounters such stimuli. This evidence comes from various experiments designed to explore the possible physiological signatures of a precognition-related experience that has come to be known as presentiment or pre-stimulus response.

The first presentiment studies were conducted by Dr. Dean Radin (1997, 2004) of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California. He had his subjects view both affective and neutral pictures being randomly displayed on a computer screen while the electrical activity in the nerve cells of the subjects’ skin was being measured. Affective pictures contain images that draw out a particularly strong emotional reaction in us, whether it is fear or shock (e.g., fatal accidents, murder victims, & threatening animals), or arousal (e.g., erotic images). Neutral pictures are just the opposite - images that tend not to stir our emotions (e.g., landscapes, household items, & fruit). The results of Radin’s studies indicated that the subjects had shown significantly larger changes in skin electrical activity in the moments just before they were shown an affective picture as compared to changes in their activity just before seeing a neutral picture. This suggests that the nervous systems of the subjects were producing an emotional "jump" response to the affective picture before they had even seen it. In other words, it seems to be an emotional response in anticipation of a future event. Follow-up studies suggested that violently-themed affective pictures tend to elicit the strongest presentiment response, and that the response can be stronger when the affective picture is shown for a shorter time (Bierman & Radin, 1997, 1999). A few other independent studies have tried other startling stimuli, such as blasting alarm sounds into the subjects’ ears at random times. These subjects also showed a presentiment response (May et al., 2005; Spottiswoode & May, 2003).

A growing number of recent studies are suggesting that other parts of the body may also show a presentiment response, including the heart (McCraty et al., 2004a) and the brain (Bierman & Scholte, 2002; Bierman & van Ditzhuijzen, 2006; Hinterberger et al., 2006; McCraty et al., 2004b). The results of a study by Radin and Eva Lobach (2007) of the University of Amsterdam, which was published in the latest issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, seems to add to the evidence for the latter.

In Radin and Lobach’s study, slow brain wave activity was recorded from the occipital region (associated with vision) at the back of their subjects’ brains via electroencephalograph (EEG) while the subjects were visually stimulated at random times. The stimulation came in the form of a light that was quickly flashed toward the subject's eyes through a pair of opaque glasses fitted with light-emitting diodes (LEDs). To start each individual test trial, the subject clicked a computer mouse that they held in their hands. After 4 seconds (which constituted the presentiment period) had passed, the computer sampled an electronic random number generator to determine whether it should activate the LEDs in the subject’s glasses and produce a flash, or whether it should keep them dark until the end of the trial (indicated by a computer tone), then the process was repeated for the next trial. The probability of the subject seeing the LEDs flash or not was exactly 50/50 for each trial. The EEG results indicated that during the presentiment period, female subjects had shown a slightly higher level of brain wave activity on the trials where the LEDs were flashed than on the trials where the LEDs did not flash to a statistically significant degree (odds of about 142 to 1 against chance alone). This higher level of brain activity during the flash trials suggests a kind of anticipation or “readying” response to the impending light flash, akin to presentiment. Interestingly, male subjects had shown the opposite effect, in that their level of brain wave activity was slightly lower on flash trials than on no flash trials. This latter finding was not statistically significant, however. Radin and Lobach also found that the peak level of brain wave activity for the female subjects occurred approximately one second before the light flash.

Radin and Lobach’s findings are consistent with other brain studies related to presentiment and precognition. Bierman and Scholte (2002) had monitored their subjects’ brain activity using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) while the subjects randomly viewed affective and neutral pictures. They found that higher levels of brain activity were present in the occipital region just before the subjects viewed affective pictures than when they viewed neutral pictures, a finding consistent with studies on visual processing of affective and neutral pictures (e.g., Lang et al., 1998). McDonough et al. (2002) conducted a series of studies in which they disguised a precognition test in a gambling task. Four playing cards were shown on a computer screen to the subject, and the subject selected one of them. A moment later, the computer randomly chose one of the cards to be the precognition target. EEG monitoring of the subjects during this task revealed higher brain wave activity in subjects when they selected the target card than when they didn’t select it. At least three other EEG studies relating to presentiment have observed similar effects (Bierman & van Ditzhuijzen, 2006; Hinterberger et al., 2006; McCraty et al., 2004b).

A lot of questions still remain about presentiment and precognition as a whole, but these studies strongly hint that there may be a brain correlate of such phenomena, and this is one thing that may eventually help establish their existence, apart from the statistical evidence for them.

- Bryan Williams


Bierman, D. J., & Radin, D. I. (1997). Anomalous anticipatory response on randomized future conditions. Perceptual and Motor Skills 84(2), April. pp. 689 – 690.

Bierman, D. J., & Radin, D. I. (1999). Conscious and anomalous nonconscious emotional processes: A reversal of the arrow of time? In S. R. Hameroff, A. W. Kazniak, & D. J. Chalmers (Eds.) Toward a Science of Consciousness III: The Third TUCSON Discussions and Debates (pp. 367 – 385). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press/Bradford.

Bierman, D. J., & Scholte, H. S. (2002). Anomalous anticipatory brain activation preceding exposure of emotional and neutral pictures. Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 45th Annual Convention (pp. 25 – 36). Cary, NC: Parapsychological Association, Inc.

Bierman, D. J., & van Ditzhuijzen, J. (2006). Anomalous slow cortical components in a slot-machine task. Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 49th Annual Convention (pp. 5 – 19). Petaluma, CA: Parapsychological Association, Inc.

Hinterberger, T., Studer, P., Jäger, M., Haverty-Stacke, C., & Walach, H. (2006). The slide-show presentiment effect discovered in brain electrical activity. Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 49th Annual Convention (pp. 57 – 70). Petaluma, CA: Parapsychological Association, Inc.

Lang, P. J., Bradley, M. M., Fitzsimmons, J. R., Cuthbert, B. N., Scott, J. D., Moulder, B., & Nangia, V. (1998). Emotional arousal and activation of the visual cortex: An fMRI analysis. Psychophysiology 35(2), March. pp. 199 – 210.

May, E. C., Paulinyi, T., & Vassy, Z. (2005). Anomalous anticipatory skin conductance response to acoustic stimuli: Experimental results and speculation about a mechanism. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 11(4), August. pp. 695 – 702.

McCraty, R., Atkinson, M., & Bradley, R. T. (2004a). Electrophysiological evidence of intuition: Part 1. The surprising role of the heart. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 10(1), February. pp. 133 – 143.

McCraty, R., Atkinson, M., & Bradley, R. T. (2004b). Electrophysiological evidence of intuition: Part 2. A system-wide process? Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 10(2), April. pp. 325 – 336.

McDonough, B. E., Don, N. S., & Warren, C. A. (2002). Differential event-related potentials to targets and decoys in a guessing task. Journal of Scientific Exploration 16(2), Summer. pp. 187 – 206.

Radin, D. I. (1997). Unconscious perception of future emotions: An experiment in presentiment. Journal of Scientific Exploration 11(2), Summer. pp. 163 – 180.

Radin, D. I. (2004). Electrodermal presentiments of future emotions. Journal of Scientific Exploration 18(2), Summer. pp. 253 – 273.

Radin, D., & Lobach, E. (2007). Toward understanding the placebo effect: Investigating a possible retrocausal factor. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 13(7), September. pp. 733 – 739.

Spottiswoode, S. J. P., & May, E. C. (2003). Skin conductance prestimulus response: Analyses, artifacts, and a pilot study. Journal of Scientific Exploration 17(4), Winter. pp. 617 – 641.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Telepathy EEG Correlations in Distantly Located Participants

Have you ever picked up the phone and knew it was your sister?

Or you dreamed something and it really happened like that afterwards?

In a recent survey, 45% of those who responded said that they had personal experience of telepathic communication. However, research over the last 70 years has provided enough evidence to convince some scientists that phenomena such as telepathy and clairvoyance do exist and may be occurring some of the time throughout the general population.

Within their study about the measurement of EEG correlations in distantly located participants, researchers in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Northampton are looking for emotionally strongly-connected pairs of subjects (e.g. best friends, couples, twins, mother & daugher, father & grandfather) 18 years and older to participate.

This study will be conducted by Ursula Mochty, Dr. Thilo Hinterberger and Professor Harald Walach at the University of Northampton/UK in cooperation with Devi Erath and Dr. Stefan Schmidt at University clinic Freiburg/Germany.

This experiment will use EEG and skin conductance recordings to test for possible evidence of unconscious telepathy between a visually stimulated and non-stimulated person. The EEG recordings will take place in the laboratory in Northampton, England and in Freiburg, Germany at the same time. The stimulated participant will be trying to send information to their partner about their reaction to images that s/he is seeing, while both are in separate locations. The experiment will take place on one day and will last for about 4 hours. You will be fully reimbursed for your time and we will pay for all travel expenses.

If interested please contact:

Ursula Mochty, Dipl.Psych., MA
Psychology Division
University of Northampton
Park Campus
Boughton Green Road

Tel: 0044 – 1604 – 89 - 2377 oder 2486

Friday, November 02, 2007

Tips for Measuring Magnetic Fields at Haunt Sites

After discussing the relationship between haunting experiences and magnetic fields in our previous blog posts, we now present some useful tips for paranormal enthusiasts on measuring magnetic fields, both geomagnetic and electromagnetic, at haunt sites during field investigations.

1.) Always take note of the area around the spot you are measuring to make sure that there are no electronics, appliances, power lines or generators, and wiring nearby that may be a natural cause for any magnetic fields you detect. This will be better ensure that you may be getting an anomalous reading, and not a false one. It is vitally important to recognize that although it appears that magnetic fields may be tied in some way to apparitions and haunting phenomena, this does not necessarily mean that the presence of fields at haunt sites are due to ghosts. Many less-experienced investigators have immediately jumped to this conclusion, and one can see that it is generally not correct when one realizes that there are many sources in non-haunted locations that can generate these fields by conventional means. These same sources may also be found in haunt sites.

2.) Be sure to take baseline readings of the haunt site to determine the average magnetic field strength of the site. It can be helpful to compare readings taken from areas where ghostly phenomena has been reported with reading taken from nearby areas where no phenomena has been reported (“control” areas). It is useful to establish a baseline magnetic reading that can be compared to the magnetic field readings at the haunt site, which may help determine just how different the two are from each other (a basic indication of how “anomalous” the magnetic fields at the haunt site are). Measurements should first be recorded throughout the haunt site to determine the average magnetic field strength of the site, as well as locate any areas where there might be natural irregularities in the field due to power generators, power lines entering the building, and/or a large amount of electronics, appliances, and/or electrical wiring gathered in one room. This practice will also help in accomplishing the goal in Tip #1. Houran and Brugger (2000) have suggested that measurements at haunt sites should also be compared to those taken in a “control” site where no haunting phenomena have been reported. This can help to establish that the measurements from haunt sites are anomalous, and not just part of the regular background fields of the site. As noted above, there are several conventional sources at non-haunt sites that may produce large magnetic fields from time-to-time, and some of these same sources may also be found in haunt sites. If the measurements from the haunt site and the control site are close to each other in strength when they are compared, then this may hint at these conventional sources being involved, and the readings at the haunt site not being particularly anomalous.

3.) Investigators may want to try to detect changes in the magnetic field over time by taking repeated measurements in different areas of a room, and/or different areas of the haunt site to see if there is any potential sign of a gradual increase or decrease across the haunt site. A number of field investigations reported in the parapsychological literature are beginning to indicate that it is not the absolute strength or intensity of the magnetic field at the haunt site that may be important, but rather the way that the field changes over time. In at least two of the haunts investigated by noted parapsychologist William Roll (reported in Roll & Persinger, pp. 156 – 157), the strength of the magnetic fields were noted to either be gradually increasing or decreasing as one moved from one side of the haunt site to the other, suggesting that the field was changing throughout the site. In the course of investigating haunt reports at historic Hampton Court Palace in England, Wiseman et al. (2002, 2003) noted in a statistical comparison that the magnetic field changes in areas of the palace where haunting phenomena had been reported were significantly different from the field changes in areas where no phenomena were reported. They also found in another statistical comparison that the number of unusual experiences reported by tourists visiting the Palace was also related in some way to the magnetic field changes at the site. Braithwaite and associates have taken several measurements in a specific bedroom at historic Muncaster Castle in England (Braithwaite, 2004; Braithwaite et al., 2004). People sleeping in the bed found in that bedroom have reported hearing voices at night that sound like children crying, and measurements were taken in the area around the pillow of the bed and later compared to control measurements taken towards the center of the room, where the voices apparently came from. Notable changes in magnetic field strength were noted over this very short distance (roughly a few meters), suggesting magnetic field changes across the space of a single room. Most recently, Terhune et al. (2007) found suggestive differences when statistically comparing the magnetic field changes in areas where haunt phenomena were reported to control areas where no phenomena occurred. Similarly, the magnetic fields applied to the brain that Persinger and his associates use to simulate haunt-related experiences (Persinger, 2001; Persinger & Koren, 2001; Persinger et al., 2000) are composed of complex patterns that can change the structure of the fields.

4.) Carefully log all magnetic readings and conditions, including specific locations where readings where taken, time that readings were taken, and the length of time that the magnetic field was present. If a floor plan of the site(s) under investigation is available, use copies of this floor plan to record your readings. Otherwise, it might be beneficial to draft your own floor plan of the site(s), time and resources permitting. If one hopes to have their results taken seriously, it is vital to have a complete record or log of the investigation, particularly of all measurements made. Human memory alone is unreliable because it is subject to bias and error. Having a record may also help to reveal possible patterns in the activity at the haunt site that may hint at a possible natural source for it (e.g., some EMFs in homes and buildings may sometimes change at regular intervals when certain equipment or appliances, such as air conditioners, refrigerators, etc., turn on and off).

Although it is not meant to be comprehensive, we hope that this primer provides a starting basis for those paranormal enthusiasts who wish to take their approach to haunting investigations a step further.
-Bryan Williams, University of New Mexico
-Annalisa Ventola, Public Parapsychology

-Mike Wilson, Psi Society


Braithwaite, J. J. (2004). Magnetic variances associated with ‘haunt-type’ experiences: A comparison using time-synchronized baseline measurements. European Journal of Parapsychology, 19, 3 – 28.

Braithwaite, J. J., Perez-Aquino, K., & Townsend, M. (2004). In search of magnetic anomalies associated with haunt-type experiences: Pulses and patterns in dual time-synchronized measurements. Journal of Parapsychology, 68, 255 – 288.

Houran, J., & Brugger, P. (2000). The need for independent control sites: A methodological suggestion with special reference to haunting and poltergeist field research. European Journal of Parapsychology, 15, 30 – 45.

Persinger, M. A. (2001). The neuropsychiatry of paranormal experiences. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and the Clinical Neurosciences, 13, 515 – 524.

Persinger, M. A., & Koren, S. A. (2001). Predicting the characteristics of haunt phenomena from geomagnetic factors and brain sensitivity: Evidence from field and experimental studies. In J. Houran & R. Lange (Eds.) Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (pp. 179 – 194). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Persinger, M. A., Tiller, S. G., & Koren, S. A. (2000). Experimental simulation of a haunt experience and elicitation of paroxysmal electroencephalographic activity by transcerebral complex magnetic fields: Induction of a synthetic “ghost”? Perceptual and Motor Skills, 90, 659 – 674.

Roll, W. G., & Persinger, M. A. (2001). Investigations of poltergeists and haunts: A review and interpretation. In J. Houran & R. Lange (Eds.) Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (pp. 123 – 163). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Terhune, D. B., Ventola, A., & Houran, J. (2007). An analysis of contextual variables and the incidence of photographic anomalies at an alleged haunt and a control site. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 21, 99 – 120.

Wiseman, R., Watt, C., Greening, E., Stevens, P., & O’Keeffe, C. (2002). An investigation into the alleged haunting of Hampton Court Palace: Psychological variables and magnetic fields. Journal of Parapsychology, 66, 387 – 408.

Wiseman, R., Watt, C., Stevens, P., Greening, E., & O’Keeffe, C. (2003). An investigation into alleged ‘hauntings.’ British Journal of Psychology, 94, 195 – 211.