Ghosts, specters, and apparitions have been part of our social consciousness since the very beginning of time. Whether or not they are real, ghosts have been an effective learning tool for humanity.
Devout believers and stout skeptics have agreed that some curious psychological facts about ghosts are simply undeniable.
There are many facts about the brain that would blow your mind, and these go hand in hand with how and why people believe or don’t believe in spirits. It does not simply boil down to a few anecdotes.
Enough of the preamble and formalities. Grab a cup of your favorite witch’s brew and a warm blanket as you discover the following fascinating facts about the things that go bump in the night.
17 Psychological Facts About Ghosts
Humanity’s obsession with beings from beyond the veil is evident in every single culture across the globe. Long before we hung up decorations and gave out candy, Halloween was once known as Samhain, a Celtic festival to ward off evil spirits.
In Japan, there are stories as old as time that warn of Yōkai and their dastardly deeds. Mexican culture has the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, a festival in celebration of their loved ones’ ghosts coming for a visit.
That being said, let’s take a look at what spooky specters have to teach us about psychology and human emotions.
1. Ghosts Have Their Own Psychological Fields of Study
Phantoms are such a striking curiosity to humankind that they have not only one but two different psychological fields of study. These fields are known as anomalistic psychology and parapsychology.
Now, it’s worth pointing out that experts intensely debate parapsychology to be a pseudoscience. Either way, it clearly indicates that, as a society, humans feel that ghosts are worth studying.
Anomalistic psychology looks for a psychological and rational reason behind paranormal occurrences. In contrast, parapsychology tries to prove or disprove the existence of supernatural happenings. Near-death experiences, psychic phenomena, and hauntings are popular points of study for parapsychology.
2. Ghosts Proved Eyewitnesses to Be Unreliable
It has long been proven that up to 25% of eyewitness accounts are incorrect, and ghosts helped scientists establish this as early as the Victorian era. How did they do so? Well, it’s simple: the experiment was conducted as a seance. Not an actual seance, mind you, a fake one.
In 1887, researchers held seances with fake mediums on unsuspecting participants. Afterward, they would request the participants to write down what they have witnessed during the seance. The study found that people would omit important events as well as recall events in an incorrect order.
3. Sleep Paralysis and Specters Are Tightly Intertwined
Knowing how to get a good night’s sleep can sometimes feel like witchcraft. To the point that many people develop sleep paralysis due to their unhealthy sleep schedules. The really interesting part of sleep paralysis is that it can induce an incredible amount of fear in those who suffer from it.
People who have been in life-threatening situations have reported that the fear during their sleep paralysis period is far greater than that of their past traumatic events.
Couple these intense emotions with your brain’s tendency to be creative during this half-asleep period. It becomes easy to see why people believe they see ghosts, demons, and other faceless shadows.
4. Ouija Boards Move Thanks to the Ideomotor Effect
Many horror movies feature some innocent people messing around with a “harmless” Ouija Board, just for it to summon the wrong spirit and ruin their lives. If you have ever played with this ominous toy, your group has probably sworn high and low that they weren’t the ones moving the little table over the letters.
Here is some good and bad news for you. The good news is that you and your friends probably didn’t contact any demonic entities. However, the bad news is you and all your friends did push on the little table.
Not knowingly, though. This is known as the ideomotor effect, which occurs when someone, or in this case, a group of people, makes unconscious movements.
5. Unexplained Moved Objects Are More Likely to Have Been Moved by an Invisible Gorilla Than Ghosts
People often miss things that happen around them because they are focused on something else. This is called inattentional blindness.
For example, in a famous experiment, participants were asked to count the number of times a ball was thrown. They were so focused on this task that they failed to notice a person dressed in a gorilla suit walking through the crowd.
This is another example of some quirky human behaviors you may not have known about. So don’t worry — there isn’t actually an invisible gorilla that moves items around you to slowly drive you insane. Nor are there any ghosts haunting your hotel rooms or constantly moving car keys or wallets.
6. Magical Thinking’s Link to Paranormal Beliefs
Magical thinking is a psychological term that covers a wide array of topics. It can be as mundane as throwing salt over your left shoulder for good luck when you spill salt or as intense and debate-inducing as religion itself.
How does this magical thinking interlink with ghosts? Interestingly enough, it is believed by psychologists that the tendency for magical thinking increases during times of stress and uncertainty.
An American Psychology Association study has shown that people who are more emotional and aware of their emotions are more likely to believe in ghosts.
7. Beliefs in Ghosts, Specters, and the Occult Can Stem from Childhood Trauma
There is a lot we still have to learn about depression and childhood trauma. These are incredibly dark and emotionally heavy topics, but they are a fascinating look into the human psyche.
One such morbid peak was glimpsed during a 1993 experiment of Irwin’s Model. It was found that the 32 adults who grew up in an alcoholic household were far more likely to believe in ghosts, the occult, and psychic precognition.
8. ESP is Real, Maybe?
Parapsychologists believe extrasensory perception (ESP) to be a paranormal wave where spirits attempt to commune with the living. The eerie thing about it is that science has no way to disprove this completely.
The Ganzfeld technique was developed to do precisely that. However, where scientists were expecting a success rate of around 25%, they received success rates as high as 33%. This significantly higher hit rate does not out and out prove that telepathy or communicating with the dead is possible. Still, more interestingly, it leaves it unanswered.
9. Politically Conservative People Are Less Likely to Believe in Ghosts
When it comes to things that go bump in the night, you would be surprised how much your political views may tell you about these beliefs. Interestingly enough, polls done by Gallup News show that only 28% of politically conservative people believe in ghosts, whereas 42% of their liberal counterparts share the same belief.
10. Poltergeists Are a Potential Side Effect of Brain Damage
Seeing things that may not be real is one of the most well-known facts about schizophrenia.
However, it is not the only thing that can make you see otherworldly visions. The National Institute of Health published a case study proving that poltergeists’ visions can be a symptom of damage to the right side of your brain, which is responsible for sight.
11. Feelings of Being Chased or Stalked by Faceless Shadow Figures Can Be Linked to Epilepsy
You have undoubtedly been in a room or corridor in your house, turned off the light, and immediately felt as if a dark presence was chasing you. The good news is you do not need to call the exorcist. Psychology has the answer for you and what you are feeling.
Thanks to a National Institute of Health study, you now know this is a form of epilepsy. More accurately, your brain is responding identically as it would to a temporal lobe seizure. Somehow, knowing this is scarier than the imaginary demon entity chasing you, but rest assured it is harmless.
12. Isolated Hauntings Can Be Attributed to Low Light and Substance Usage
Winston Churchill famously saw the ghost of Honest Abe in his bedroom mirror while visiting the White House. Was the former Prime Minister of England really visited from beyond the grave?
Unfortunately not. Psychologists now know that low lighting will cause your brain to try and fill the gaps when looking into a mirror. This is especially true when low lighting is accompanied by fatigue, drugs, or alcohol.
13. Ghosts Have Their Own Disease
It’s true — ghost disease is real. Don’t worry, though, it isn’t contagious. In fact, it isn’t a disease at all. Ghost disease is the rather dramatic name given to a phenomenon that occurs in patients who have recently come out of anesthesia.
The official medical name for it is postoperative delirium, and it is rather similar to the sleep paralysis entry. Many patients report seeing ghosts in their hospital rooms shortly after waking from their anesthesia.
14. Psychologists Believe That Ghosts Help Us Deal With the Universe’s Random Nature
Is that tapping sound on your window a ghost trying to communicate with you? Perhaps it is just a tree branch that needs trimming? Or is it just an example of anthropomorphism?
Anthropomorphism is the human mind’s tendency to see meaning behind completely random occurrences. Because, on a psychological level, humans do not like randomness. We need cause and effect to make sense of our world.
15. Believing in Ghosts Can Make You See the World Differently
During a study at the University of Finland, Tapani Riekki found that people with paranormal beliefs are likelier to find intentions behind random patterns.
For example, if you were watching two undefined shapes just swirling around one another, supernatural believers may find them to be “playing a game of tag.” Furthermore, it was found that believers in ghostly affairs are more likely to see faces hidden in ordinary photos.
16. Ghosts Can Boost Your Confidence
A study published by Science Direct found that those who believe in the occult are more confident in their decisions. They can make choices much faster when compared to people who are skeptical of the paranormal. Non-believers were more cautious about their decisions but did tend to make more accurate choices.
17. Ghosts Might Be Caused by Exploding Head Syndrome
This is another entry that is very close to the sleep paralysis phenomenon. Have you ever been drifting off to sleep to suddenly be awoken by a loud explosion or crash in the distance?
You obviously get up in a hurry and take a look around to find that everything is still in order. This is what is known as exploding head syndrome and is caused by a syncing error in the brain, much like sleep paralysis, and not a ghoul trying to disturb your beauty sleep.