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Are Ghosts Just a Matter of Belief?
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Written by Brian Parsons on March 04, 2010, 01:15:46 PM

Late last year I presented “The Power of Belief in Paranormal Investigation” to an audience at the Northeast Ohio Paranormal Conference in Rootstown, Ohio. In this I discussed some of the belief systems that are in place and how we approach them (I’ll be discussing more of these topics later in future blog posts). One of the topics I touched on was the belief factor in the overall production of ghostly events. This was actually a last minute addition to my presentation, but was one that generated a lot of questions during and after the event.

I am currently writing a second part to my first book, “Handbook for the Amateur Paranormal Investigator or Ghost Hunter: How to Become a Successful Paranormal Group”, and have included a chapter on belief. It is not only a basic concept, but one that I feel a lot of veteran individuals and groups do not fully grasp or realize has a presence in the their investigation (not only for their client, but for them as well). The following is an excerpt from my soon to be released book with some additional notes for taking this subject deeper for discussion purposes.

British clinical physician, Kenneth Batcheldor, researched the effects of psychokinetic activity created during séances and what affect belief had on them back in the 1950’s. Part of his research pointed toward the increased use of science having an adverse affect on psychokinetic production. Basically, as more science, measurement, and observation were added, the production of events slowed or ceased. Along with this he noted that doubt and suspicion seemed to hinder activity and that there had to be a near tangible expectation for events to occur.

Batcheldor also noted that two factors seemed to hinder production of psychokinetic activity. The first aspect was called witness inhibition. This is something that I think we can all familiarize ourselves with. This is the initial state of shock or fear one experiences when witnessing a paranormal event. So, our very reaction to the events can hinder their continuation. The second aspect is called ownership resistance. This is when a person has a tendency to fear that they might be the one responsible for causing the phenomena.

In 1972 the Toronto Society foTypical Seance of the Spiritualism Erar Psychical Research began an experiment that utilized the work put forth by Batcheldor. Their experiment was Fictional Philipnot to hinder the production of PK, but to enhance it by turning these theories around. The group created a fictional character named “Philip”. They gave him a complete background story and history and used séances as a way of communicating with him. Amazingly, the group was able to “contact Philip” several times and was able to get reactions to questions posed to him.

How did they overcome witness inhibition? The TSPR used a “designated cheater” to get the ball rolling. The person in charge of the experiment, who was not actively part of the séances, would bring in one individual and make them the cheater for a particular session. During their séances, if someone were to make a noise or bump the table accidentally they would claim responsibility out loud by stating, “That was me”. This is a common practice (or should be) with many current groups conducting various vigils or even during EVP sessions. The designated cheater would bump or move the table on purpose without announcing they were responsible. This would “warm up” the sitters and remove the initial inhibition and when the designated cheater would notice movements that were not his or her own he/she would stop.

What about ownership resistance? This was a simple one to overcome and was the basis for the experiment. Philip was created not just as a fictional character, but as the one the group intended to talk to. Philip would get the blame for anything that happened during the séance and the sitters would take no responsibility. Granted, this experiment was a “good faith” experiment as the sittings were done in complete darkness and the legitimacy of the investigation rested solely on the word of each investigator.  Not only did this series of séances provide evidence that the living could produce psychokinetic effects, but that we could “create ghosts” with enough belief.

SheepJoseph Banks (J.B.) Rhine, who was the “Father of Parapsychology” (he invented the term), did a bulk of laboratory testing with ESP and PK abilities in the living. He noted what was called the “sheep-goat” effect. Those who were tested for ESP who believed in the potential for such abilities were called “sheep” and those who did not believe were called “goats”.


In ESP tests there is a middle ground known as the “mean chance expectation”, or just chance. This is the range of what the average person scores on the ESP test, basically taking out the highest and lowest scores and then creating an average of the rest. If a person scores higher than chance consistently it would point to the possibility that the person has ESP abilities.

Rhine noted that the “sheep” consistently scored higher than those who were neutral or did not believe in ESP and the “goats” scored lower than chance. Even if the “goat” had no psychic ability they should still score in the chance range and not below it. In 80% of “sheep-goat” studies the “sheep” scored higher than the “goats” thus giving credence that belief plays a role in paranormal events.

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Excellent article, Brian! I've long proposed that belief plays a bigger role than most people realize when it comes to paranormal phenomena. 


by Doug Kelley on March 04, 2010, 07:48:40 PM

It's amazing what is available if we just read what Parapsychology has done for us already. With work to compliment ideas like this I think belief could help explain a lot with ghost sightings and even ongoing events. This goes along with what you teach when dealing with "demonic" entities and the like.

by Brian Parsons on March 05, 2010, 11:23:05 PM

To further the thought I think that belief may well be the mechanism that dictates what manifests in reality for everyone. Basis of quantum physics and making energy into matter by just observing it could well be interlinked with people's sense of belief and dictate how things manifest on a localized level.

i.e. A client believes on a deep level that they have a ghost in the house and slowly but surely the RSPK events start then things start to happen that would indicate an entity yet when investigated nothing happens. This would indicate that the people in the localized area doing the investigations would not have such a deep belief system thus counter-acting the client's observation on a quantum level and restructuring that energy that manifested for the client.

This also could well explain why researchers that go into an investigation with expectations of hauntings being in a certain location actually have things manifest whereas researchers that go into an investigation without preconceived notions, expectations, so forth, have absolutely nothing happen.

I think in such situations that the environment itself would need to be studied on top of the individuals experiencing these events. This might even actually give some insight in how the world of quantum mechanics actually interact with us since we are made up of the same material.

by Michael Jones on March 10, 2010, 03:13:18 AM


I agree completely. I have had a very loose theory about random routines that people do that somehow put them "in line" with the apparition or haunting. While some people encouter ghosts because of renovations or changing the environment, it seems to me that most experience things when they begin to first settle into a location.

It's long been noted that when investigators arrive at a location it may mean the end of the events, even reading Parapsychology backs this up. This is why paranormal investigators or ghost hunters showing up a location to "debunk" (nasty word) might have this negative view of the events seep into the psyche of the client and severing the connection or actually bringing them to reality, either way, the events end. Attempting to merely "confirm" the events doesn't help either. As Batcheldor suggests, one needs an almost tangible expectation for things to occur so whether real or not our expectations and beliefs do factor into what happens.

by Brian Parsons on March 10, 2010, 07:23:10 PM
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Brian D. Parsons is the Executive Director for ParaNexus. He is formerly the Director of the Ohio Paranormal Investigation Network (now a client/investigator help site) and has been investigating ghostly claims since 1996. He has also studied under the MUFON Field Investigator's Manual for the various aspects of UFO investigations and has been a freelance cryptid researcher and investigator studying various cases in Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

Brian has written five books, “Handbook for the Amateur Paranormal Investigator or Ghost Hunter: How to Become a Successful Paranormal Group” as well as a companion book, ““Betty’s Ghost: A Guide to Paranormal Investigation”, and "Handbook for the Amateur Paranormal Investigator II: The Art and Science of Paranormal Investigation" serve as his introductory books into ghost investigation. His fourth book, "The 'E4' Method: Breaking the Mold of Paranormal Investigation" is an overview of his new methodology into client-centered paranormal investigation. His fifth book, "Handbook for the Amateur Cryptozoologist", provides a balanced look at the subject of cryptozoology and offers basic guidance behind the subject. He is a regular contributor of paranormal news (known as the Paranromal News Insider) to the Grand Dark Conspiracy radio program and has been a guest on several occasions.

Brian holds a PhD from the Insititute of Metaphysical Humanistic Science and lives in Twinsburg, Ohio, with his wife Amy and their dog Sasha.

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