Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Magnetic Fields and Haunting Phenomena: A Basic Primer for Paranormal Enthusiasts (Part 2)

In the first installment of this blog series, we discussed geomagnetic field activity and how it may relate to haunting phenomena. In this installment, we discuss electromagnetic fields their relation to haunting experiences.


Electromagnetic fields are AC fields that are most often produced artificially by electrical power currents such as those found in our homes. In some instances, they may also be produced naturally by geophysical sources, such electricity produced through seismic pressure on conductive rock along fault zones (Persinger, 1985, 1987), and very low frequency atmospherics, which are electromagnetic pulses produced from electrical discharges after a lightning strike that average around 0.6 milliGauss (Schienle et al., 1998).

The issue of possible health effects in humans due to electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure has received a great deal of attention over the past several decades (Hafemeister, 1996; Portier & Wolfe, 1998; Zipse, 1993), and this may still be a relevant issue today with the high volume of computers, electronics, and appliances that have been introduced into the home and workplace. Prolonged exposure to the magnetic fields given off by these devices may provide a reason as to why haunt-related experiences are sometimes reported in new and fairly recent buildings, as opposed to the stereotypical old, abandoned, and eerie-looking building that play host to urban legends. For example, Persinger, Koren, and O’Connor (2001; Persinger & Koren, 2001, pp. 184 – 187) investigated reports of haunt phenomena (including apparitions, sensing a presence and an unseen touch, nightmares, breathing & whispering sounds, and light flashes) in the small home of a young adult couple. The house itself contained a large amount of electronics and appliances, and was described as being “overwired” and not properly grounded.

Concern has also been raised over the effects that electromagnetic field exposure may have on brain functioning and resulting mental health (Paneth, 1993; O’Connor, 1993), and at least some experimental studies have seemingly demonstrated an effect. For example, two studies have observed possible changes in brain wave activity on an electroencephalogram (EEG) following brief (2 sec.) exposure to EMFs as strong as 780 milliGauss and higher (Bell et al., 1992; von Klitzing, 1991), similar to the levels we may find at haunt sites. Persinger, Richards, and Koren (1997) found brain wave changes when lower strength magnetic fields (10 milliGauss) were applied over longer periods of time (several minutes), with these changes even continuing for a short time after the magnetic field has been removed. A review of experimental studies also suggests that changes in brain chemistry and hormone levels may sometimes occur in response to EMF exposure (Reiter, 1993). A considerable amount of evidence suggests that EMF exposure can also affect sleep (Sher, 2000), which might contribute to haunt experiences that occur during sleeping hours. Gangi and Johansson (2000) have even proposed a model which suggests that EMF exposure may cause certain skin cells to release inflammatory substances that may cause itching and other skin sensations. If their model is correct, it may perhaps be a way to account for some of the strange skin and touching sensations that people sometimes experience at haunt sites.

The suggestion that electromagnetic field exposure might be tied in some way to apparition or ghost experiences comes from both laboratory studies and field investigations. In the laboratory, Persinger, Tiller, and Koren (2000) were able to study the experiences of a man who had reported haunt phenomena in his home a few years before. When they applied a 10 milliGauss EMF, which had a complex wave pattern, to his brain, the man reported experiencing brief “rushes of fear” and various odd sensations, followed by him seeing a visual image that seemed to resemble the apparition he saw in his home. Changes in the man’s brain wave activity were also observed by EEG in conjunction with his experience. See also Persinger (2001) and Persinger and Koren (2001, pp. 190 – 192) for other discussions of this and a related study.

The electromagnetic fields in most buildings tend to average between 0.2 and 2 milliGauss. However, various field investigations have found EMFs notably above this average at haunt sites (e.g., Persinger et al., 2001; Roll et al., 1996; Roll & Persinger, 2001, pp. 154 – 163; Wiseman et al., 2002). This is not always the case, however; there are at least two field investigations that did not find strong EMFs at the haunt sites when measuring for them (Maher, 2000; Maher & Hansen, 1997).

To measure electromagnetic fields, one of the least expensive yet effective devices that a paranormal enthusiast may commonly use is a second type of meter made by Alphalab, the TriField Broadband Meter [1]. This meter is calibrated to measure EMFs such as those generated by power lines, and gives readings in units of milliGauss. When taking readings with this meter, it is important to note any possible sources around the meter (e.g., electronics and appliances, power generators, running cars, & electrical wiring) that may naturally cause the meter’s needle to move higher or even spike, and which may lead to a false reading.

In the next installment, we will offer some tips on taking magnetic field measurements during haunting investigations.

-Bryan Williams, University of New Mexico
-Annalisa Ventola, Public Parapsychology

-Mike Wilson, Psi Society


[1] The TriField Broadband Meter is distinguished from the Tri-Field Natural EM Meter (see Note #1 in the previous blog installment) by its tan-colored label surrounding the dial switch, and lack of small knob.


Bell, G. B., Marino, A. A., & Chesson, A. L. (1992). Alterations in brain electrical activity caused by magnetic fields: Detecting the detection process. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 83, 389 – 397.

Gangi, S., & Johansson, O. (2000). A theoretical model based upon mast cells and histamine to explain the recently proclaimed sensitivity to electric and/or magnetic fields in humans. Medical Hypotheses, 54, 663 – 671.

Maher, M. C. (2000). Quantitative investigation of the General Wayne Inn. Journal of Parapsychology, 64, 365 – 390.

Maher, M. C., & Hansen, G. P. (1997). Quantitative investigation of a legally disputed “haunted house.” Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 40th Annual Convention (pp. 184 – 201). Durham, NC: Parapsychological Association, Inc.

O’Connor, M. E. (1993). Psychological studies in nonionizing electromagnetic energy research. Journal of General Psychology, 120, 33 – 47.

Paneth, N. (1993). Neurobehavioral effects of power-frequency electromagnetic fields. Environmental Health Perspectives Supplements, 101, 101 – 106.

Persinger, M. A. (1985). Geophysical variables and behavior: XXII. The tectonogenic strain continuum of unusual events. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 60, 59 – 65.

Persinger, M. A. (1987). Geopsychology and geopsychopathology: Mental processes and disorders associated with geochemical and geophysical factors. Experientia, 43, 92 – 103.

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., Koren, S. A., & O’Connor, R. P. (2001). Geophysical variables and behavior: CIV. Power frequency magnetic field transients (5 microTesla) and reports of haunt experiences within an electronically dense house. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 92, 673 – 674.

Persinger, M. A., Richards, P. M., & Koren, S. A. (1997). Differential entrainment of electroencephalographic activity by weak complex electromagnetic fields. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 84, 527 – 536.

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.

Portier, C. J., & Wolfe, M. S. (Eds.) (1998). Assessment of Health Effects from Exposure to Power-Line Frequency Electric and Magnetic Fields: NIEHS Working Group Report. Research Triangle Park, NC: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences/National Institutes of Health.

Reiter, R. J. (1993). A review of neuroendocrine and neurochemical changes associated with static and extremely low frequency electromagnetic field exposure. Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science, 28, 57 – 75.

Roll, W. G., Maher, M. C., & Brown, B. (1996). An investigation of reported haunting occurrences in a Japanese restaurant in Georgia. In E. W. Cook (Ed.) Research in Parapsychology 1992 (pp. 62 – 67). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.

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.

Schienle, A., Stark, R., & Vaitl, D. (1998). Biological effects of very low frequency (VLF) atmospherics in humans: A review. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 12, 455 – 468.

Sher, L. (2000). The effects of natural and man-made electromagnetic fields on mood and behavior: The role of sleep disturbances. Medical Hypotheses, 54, 630 – 633.

von Klitzing, L. (1991). A new encephalomagnetic effect in human brain generated by static magnetic fields. Brain Research, 540, 295 – 296.

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.

Zipse, D. W. (1993). Health effects of extremely low-frequency (50- and 60-Hz) electric and magnetic fields. IEEE Transactions on Industry Applications, 29, 447 – 458.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for these postings, you've done loads of work here (and of course, Happy Halloween! :)

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for this informative and well-researched series. I look forward to the next instalments.

Love psychic readings said...

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