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 for Psychical Research began an experiment that utilized the work put forth by Batcheldor. Their experiment was not 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.
Joseph 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.