Nearly half of Americans believe in ghosts, and 18% report seeing ghostly apparitions themselves. A variety of psychological, cultural, and sociological phenomena can lead people to think they’ve seen ghosts. And, of course, some ghost sightings remain totally unexplained. Many people who claim experience with ghosts report feeling a peculiar presence, and Swiss researchers have now duplicated this phenomenon in a lab.
Can Scientists Duplicate Ghostly Experiences?
The research, which was published in Current Biology, looked at the brains of 12 people who had neurological abnormalities, with epilepsy predominating among the group. All of the participants had previously experienced the sensation of a ghostly presence in the room with them. MRI scans of the patients’ brains showed abnormal functioning in the insular cortex, parietal-frontal cortex, and temporo-parietal cortex. These brain regions affect self-awareness, spatial perception, and movement. The study’s authors believed that problems in these brain regions could lead to a sensation of being watched by a ghost or phantom.
To test this theory, researchers blindfolded participants and then asked them to move their hands. As participants moved, a robot mimicked their movements and touched them on their backs. Participants experienced some spatial confusion during this portion of the test, but they quickly adapted and adjusted their movements accordingly. Researchers believe this was because the robot synchronized its movements to the participants’ movements.
Next, the robot mimicked participants’ movements, but slightly delayed its touch yielding a temporal-spatial discrepancy for participants’ brains to process. In this scenario, participants reported feeling a presence after about three minutes, suggesting that this sensation might be due to a combination of brain and environmental anomalies.
The study doesn’t explain every ghostly phenomenon, but does show how differences in the brain can add up to significant differences in perception. Researchers continue to study why some people report seeing or experiencing ghosts. Learn more about this field of psychology, known as parapsychology, in the GoodTherapy.org article What Can Parapsychology Tell Us?
- 18% of Americans say they’ve seen a ghost. (2013, October 20). Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/10/30/18-of-americans-say-theyve-seen-a-ghost/
- Ghost illusion created in the lab. (2014, November 6). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141106131849.htm
- Wen, T. (2014, September 05). Why do people believe in ghosts? Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/why-do-people-believe-in-ghosts/379072/
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