Historical and Conceptual Methods

Subject: Psychology
Type: Informative Essay
Pages: 7
Word count: 1813
Topics: Human Nature, Memory


Paranormal phenomena have remained a subject of interest for modern psychologists for quite a while. Abrassart (2013, p. 18) defines paranormal phenomena as unusual events often illustrated by people in popular culture as having taken place despite their lack of support from the scientific literature. Due to the interest in this particular subject, a new branch of psychology known as anomalistic psychology has been developed to help establish the correlation between human experience and paranormal events. However, Annett et al. (2016, p. 1329) criticize this particular approach to understanding paranormal events due to its assumption that there are no paranormal occurrences. One of the paranormal phenomena that have attracted a lot of attention among psychology scholars is tied to the claims that some people experience visitations by ghosts. Studies indicate that more than 24% of Americans have allegedly seen ghosts whereas more than 50% of the world population believes ghosts do exist (Evans, 2012, p. 335). Psychological and science based research are necessary to critically evaluate the validity of ‘ghosts’ as an example of paranormal phenomena. 


Suggestibility and priming

Human beings have been cited as the most advanced social creatures on the planet. According to Evans (2012, p. 336), this implies that people are not only social but highly suggestible as well. For instance, someone may behave or act fearfully even in the absence of any threat, not because they have reason to fear but simply because they have seen others acting or behaving fearfully. The suggestibility factor has been used in psychology to fuel the assertion that ghosts do not exist but are rather projections of the human mind under certain conditions. In most cases, such conditions have been described as being encapsulated in creepy environments. Quite on the contrary, Van Elk (2013, p. 1041) argues that the reality of ghost cannot be assessed from such a perspective because it lacks the practical aspect. This means that for psychologists and scientists to prove whether ghosts exist or not they would have to be willing to encounter haunted houses. 

Conversely, Jenzen (2016, p. 41) defends the suggestibility and priming approach arguing that even if ghosts do not exist one might be primed to encounter such experiences by the mere fact that he/she has been informed that specific environments are ghost infested. In support, Abrassart (2013, p. 19) argues that most people might have interpreted strange noises in haunted houses as signs for the presence of ghosts. Nevertheless, this raises the question of whether people who have reported ghost experiences were all influenced by information provided beforehand. This psychological approach to establishing the validity of ghosts depends mainly on suggestibility and priming as fueled by fear. Statistics on actual cases reported indicate that even in the absence of priming and fear more than 18% of Americans have still had ghostly paranormal encounters (French & Stone, 2013, p. 38).  


According to Auerbach (2010, p. 52), the most common non-professional’s approach to negating experiences with ghosts has been hallucinations. During hallucinations, people lose touch with reality. Psychologists and scientists have also used this approach to suggest that ghosts are never real but mere projections of a mind that have lost touch with the physical world. However, Abrassart (2013, p. 51) suggests that hallucinations cannot be used to determine whether ghosts exist or not because even people with no psychiatric problems experience hallucinations occasionally. Based on this assertion, it is logical to argue that if ghosts were real and experienced in the course of hallucinations, everyone would have such paranormal encounters. Moreover, psychologists have used hallucinations to explain ghosts of beloved ones as mere losses of individuals touch with reality causing them to report having encounters with the deceased (Evans, 2012, p. 337). Such an opinion holds water based on available statistics. According to Jenzen (2016, p. 38), more than 67% of people who have reported seeing the ghosts of their beloved have had previous hallucinating experiences as their being tries to reconnect with the departed. On the contrary, if ghost experiences were merely a result of hallucinations even hardcore drug users would report such experiences quite often. 

Human cognition and light tricks

Scientists and psychologists have argued that ghosts are just tricks of light on human cognition mechanisms (Van Elk, 2013, p. 1042). This argument emanates from the observation that human beings are designed in such a way as to see and experience the things we anticipate causing people to construe light patterns and available shades regarding human faces. When this happens, most people claim to have had a ghostly paranormal encounter. Actually, after studying specific locations where ghosts had been reported Annett et al. (2016, p. 1330) were able to recreate them using virtual reality. However, if such as the case then ghosts would be seen almost everywhere light has the appropriate conditions and shades to play tricks on the human mind. Additionally, if ghosts were visual phenomena as suggested by psychologists and scientists, why would the researchers not recreate the ghost appearances in every location where such experiences have been reported? Auerbach (2010, p. 60) also criticizes this approach suggesting that recreation of ghost appearances does not suffice to prove they are mere visual phenomena without confirmation from people that had reported seeing ghosts. In simple terms, if the recreation of ghosts using virtual techniques could coincide with real report descriptions of the ghosts then we can nullify the existence of ghosts as paranormal phenomena.  

Fantasy disposed personalities

Although some have cited sleep as one of the explanations behind ghost experiences, French and Stone (2013, p. 48) argue that not all of such experiences occur when people are asleep. This has caused psychology scholars to consider a new approach known as the prone fantasy personality (Van Elk, 2013, p. 1043). The fantasy disposed personality approach emanated from a study whose findings indicated that people who spent their formative years in their fantasy worlds are more prone to stunning visual experiences. In another study, Auerbach (2010, p. 63) found out that more than 65% of people who had spent much time as kids playing fantasy games saw some form of monsters later on in life. Such findings strongly suggest that ghost experiences are closely tied to a person’s exposure to the fantasy world. On the contrary, it is logical to disqualify this approach citing that people reported ghostly experiences even before the existence of fantasy games. Nevertheless, further studies indicate that people with fantasy prone personalities exhibit similar characteristics that would suggest that such individuals are likely to report paranormal ghost experiences. These characteristics comprise of imaginary friends, telepathy and out of body experiences (Evans, 2012, p. 339), and hypnotic susceptibility. Due to these features, such people even report seeing ghosts and aliens when placed under hypnosis. Although this approach to validating paranormal ghost experiences is more convincing being supported by actual tests, it still is questionable when considering ghost reports by people that are not prone to fantasies. 

Sleep issues

Psychologists and modern scientists have suggested that most people that have reported seeing ghosts only saw unidentifiable images when waking up. When human beings are deep asleep, sleep paralysis keeps them from inactivity. However, the phantom phase sets in when an individual is waking up and is often accompanied by images in the human mind. It is during the phantom phase when most people claim to have experienced ghost’s visitations. As Jenzen (2016, p. 57) further observes, more than 40% of the human population report seeing some images upon waking up. Whereas this argument sounds convincing, scholarly minds would be left wondering what to make of reported ghost experiences by people who were completely awake and nowhere near sleeping. As such, Van Elk (2013, p. 1044) believes that sleep issues cannot be used to disqualify the existence of ghosts because the explanation fails to provide explanations for ghost experiences by people that are awake. 

Apophenia, pareidolia, and the human mind

The human mind is known for its unique ability to connect unconnected things. This particular capability often causes people to believe in things that do not exist. Apophenia, as defined by Annett et al (2016, p. 1334), connotes the propensity to establish connections even when events are far from being relatable. Scientists and psychologists that have leaned on this approach to negate the reality of ghost experiences suggest that the human mind from the Apophenia perspective causes individuals to construe ordinary experiences as being supernatural (Annett et al., 2016, p. 1336). For example, someone might dream about a departed beloved and while one of the deceased favourite songs plays simultaneously on the radio, the person may conclude that the dead person was actually communicating. However, Abrassart (2013, p. 20) believes that the human mind with all its capabilities will later differentiate between the real-life experience (music playing from the radio) and the dream and the person will eventually distinguish between the two simultaneous experiences. Additionally, psychologists have relied on pareidolia often defined as the ability of the human mind to complete images that are incomplete (Annett et al., 2016, p. 1337). For example, people often liken the front of a vehicle to a human face. In the same way, pareidolia can cause folks to ‘see’ ghosts. The two concepts-, apophenia, and pareidolia, have been used to disqualify the existence of ghosts based on the fact that they both can cause individuals to see things that do not exist.


When seeking to critically analyse the validity of paranormal phenomena such as ghost experiences, psychological and scientific literature comes in handy. Although suggestibility and priming have been effective in negating the existence of ghosts and nullifying reported experiences, the approach lacks practicality. It is the same with the hallucinations case. Whereas scholars have used this concept to suggest that most people who report having seen ghosts usually report hallucinations, the arguments thereby are not convincing because almost everyone hallucinates occasionally. If psychologists and scientists were able to recreate ghosts from each location and match their descriptions with actual reports the approach would be more satisfying. The use of fantasy disposed of personalities to suggest that people who have harboured some form of fantasy world are more likely to report seeing ghost’s sounds valid. However, the fact that people without such dispositions have reported ghost experiences disqualifies the approach. Of all the approaches for validating ghost experiences, the concept of sleep issues tied with phantom sleep is least convincing because people who were fully awake have reportedly seen ghosts. However, the approach symbolized by Apophenia, pareidolia, and the human mind sounds more logical. This is because, in reality, the human mind is capable of making us believe in things that do not exist by completing images that are not meant to be completed. Concisely, despite the efforts made by psychologists and scientists to explain ghost experiences, the phenomenon cannot be explained through rational means. 

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  1. Abrassart, J.M., 2013. Paranormal Phenomena: Should Psychology Go Beyond the Ontological Debate?. Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology, 1(1), pp.18-23.
  2. Annett, M., Lakier, M., Li, F., Wigdor, D., Grossman, T. and Fitzmaurice, G., 2016, June. The Living Room: Exploring the Haunted and Paranormal to Transform Design and Interaction. In Proceedings of the 2016 ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (pp. 1328-1340). ACM.
  3. Auerbach, L., 2010. Ghost hunting: how to investigate the paranormal. Ronin Publishing.
  4. Evans, D., 2012. The Third Wound: Has Psychology Banished the Ghost from the Machine?. The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity, pp.335-343.
  5. French, C.C. and Stone, A., 2013. Anomalistic psychology: Exploring paranormal belief and experience. Palgrave Macmillan.
  6. Jenzen, O., 2016. The Ashgate research companion to paranormal cultures. Routledge.
  7. Van Elk, M., 2013. Paranormal believers are more prone to illusory agency detection than skeptics. Consciousness and cognition, 22(3), pp.1041-1046.
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