The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

ANOMALISTIC PSYCHOLOGY - Taking the Para out of Normal

Public interest in the paranormal has increased throughout history during tumultuous eras of uncertainty, crisis, war, economic downturns and changes in the social & political climate. Considering the state our world is currently in, it is no wonder that interest has once again peaked. Gallop Opinion polls back in 2005 revealed that 73% of those interviewed believe in some one sort of supernatural activity or another.

You cannot perform “quality” studies into the PARANORMAL or experiences that defy reasonable explanation without taking PSYCHOLOGY and the HARD SCIENCES of biology, physics, geology and physiology into careful consideration.   It should be noted that ghost hunters/parapsychologists use pseudo-scientific methods.  This is purely experimental research which, although the validity has not been proven, is often the birth place of new discoveries. 
“Parapsychology is the Mother of the opposing twins – Religion and Science”
ANOMALISTIC PSYCHOLOGY is the study of extraordinary phenomena of behavior and experience. It begins with a good deal of skepticism and doubt. Empirical evidence is collected to establish ways in which psychological and physical factors might give the impression that a paranormal event has occurred, while in fact it has not. The following factors are scrutinized carefully: Mental & Physical Illness, Neurological Factors, the Brain and Sensory System, Sleep-related disorders, Altered States of Consciousness, Cognition, Development, Personality, Memory (false or repressed), the Power of Suggestion, group Dynamics, Belief Systems, Religious Background, Superstition, Placebo Effects, Motivation, Deception & Self Deception, Geomagnetic Features of the Land, Natural and Man made Electromagnetic Fields, and the Effects of Infrasound on Human Physiology.
A "good" investigative team should have members offering a variety of skills including a working knowledge of science and human nature, the proper collection of data, respect for experimental design and investigative procedures before they advertise themselves as legitimate consultants. Unfortunately, this field has been overrun by amateur thrill seekers and novices attempting to imitate what they see on TV,  making it difficult for legitimate organizations to establish trust with the public.

Upon being contacted by a potential client, much needs to be taken into consideration besides personal accounts and the eagerness to be involved with the supernatural. You are intruding into someone’s life or property (preferably upon invitation although there are many that resort to trespassing) and are often faced with issues of fear, confusion, and highly charged emotions. This is not a game. Your duty, first and foremost, should be to offer comfort, a sense of empowerment over the situation, plausible explanations as to what is causing it or how they can find assistance in “protecting themselves” according to their individual beliefs. As with doctors "I will keep them from harm or injustice..." or even the Wiccan Rede - “And Ye none harm.”

If such claims are of no consequence to the individual or individuals involved, one must consider motivation. People rarely act without some sort of hidden payoff. Is this merely a selling point and free advertisement for the establishment? Are they looking to hold haunted tours and parties based on your declaration that someone or something is lurking in the dark? Is it a non-profit organization working to preserve a historical home or tourist destination, anxious for more donations to remain in operation? Businesses that have received the seal of “haunted” by investigative teams, particularly those on TV, have shown increased profits in the following years. And what about your investigation team? Have things been slow, motivating you to chase any lead in hopes of notoriety even if the only face you see in the mirror is the face of deception?  

When first considering a new case:

1) Respectfully gather information during an initial interview.

2) Take note of verbal and physical cues without invading one’s privacy.

3) Evaluate all those in the household for distinct personality characteristics, stability and beliefs. You’ll be surprised how transparent living people are compared to the invisible forces in their home.

4) Determine if all accounts personal experiences or hearsay of others?

5) Do all members of the family experience these events?

6) Are the occurrences constant or intermittent? A mere handful of accounts over the period of twenty or more years is not significant.

7) Is this a matter of deep concern or mere curiosity? Do they feel their lives are in eminent danger?

8) What do they believe the reasoning is behind the events?

9) What research have they conducted? Do they have prior knowledge of the location’s history or previous owner’s accounts?

10)  What are their religious/spiritual beliefs and their level of understanding of the "paranormal".

Once these initial factors are considered, the real sluth work begins.  The goal is to take all factors that ARE known constants that CAN be explained into account.  For example, there are all sorts of issues that can contribute to the perception of "Paranormal Activity" or "Demonic Possession".  Mental, neural and physical disorders, social dynamics, as well as natural events in the physical world and their effects on human physiology result in numerous false reports.   (This is not to say that there are not many people who are perfectly sane, healthy, intelligent and honest who experience such events.) Begin by ruling out the following factors if at all possible.

1) Schizophrenia and its cousins Paranoid Schizophrenia, and Schizoaffective disorder. This is the first illness one thinks of when it comes to seeing ghosts or supernatural activity.  These are severe brain diseases that interfere with normal brain and mental function. Episodes may be periodic with periods of normalcy in between.  People with this disorder have several of the following symptoms:  visual & auditory hallucinations, delusions (or false beliefs), paranoia, inability to trust others including loved ones, inappropriate outbursts of anger or laughter, disorganized thinking, speech abnormalities such as disconnected or confusing language, growling or other strange sounds, repetitive motions such as rocking or flaying arms about wildly.
2) Psychotic Breaks in the Manic states of Bipolar Disease may occur during which one loses touch with reality. Symptoms are similar to Schizophrenia, but are not lasting. One may feel they have super human abilities.

3) Clinical Depression including symptoms of stress, anxiety, fear, emptiness, emotional dullness and loneliness will in some cases be expressed as paranormal delusions.

4) Dissociative Identity Disorder is when a single person displays multiple distinct identities or personalities (known as alter egos or alters), each with its own pattern of perceiving and interacting with the environment. The diagnosis requires that at least two personalities routinely take control of the individual's behavior with an associated memory loss or amnesia. There may be distinctions in voice, mannerisms, beliefs, emotional lability, gender, even type of being such as animal or demon.

5) Drug and /or alcohol abuse can cause various forms of hallucinations and cognitive disturbances. Even prescription medications, in particular the SSRI’s (Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors) used for treatment of depression can trigger a ghostly encounter.

6) Sleep Disorders such as insomnia, thus sleep deprivation, can induce altered states of awareness. The various states of sleep, 4 in all, can produce very real nightmarish situations.

Sleep paralysis occurs during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is a perfectly normal physiologic state. However, when your dream begins to creep into consciousness it can produce frightening and realistic night terrors. You may feel things touching you, difficulty breathing which is interpreted as being strangled, a feeling of being held down by unseen hands, hallucinations visual & auditory.

During NREM or deep sleep one may awaken and sleep walk, open their eyes without seeing, and perform skillful activities. Walking around as if in a trance, one may become injured, ending up with bruises and scratches without knowing it.  Upon awakening they may believe that a ghost or demon did this to them.

7) Frontal Lobe Seizure Dysfunction can be brought on by Epilepsy, Autoimmune diseases such as MS, or head trauma. Lesions form that can cause memory problems, outbursts of anger, mood disorders (particularly Euphoria), hallucinations, language problems, apathy, anticipation of things to occur, among other symptoms. People with this disorder are particularly sensitive to low level EMFs as well as fields caused by man-made electrical appliances such as phones, clocks, radios, (often found by the bedside or headboard) lighting, computers, TV’s and so on.  Needless to say the surges in magnetic fields tend to occur at night, when most paranormal experiences occur.

8) Temporal Lobe Seizure Dysfunction affects the part of the brain that is responsible for regulation of emotions and motivated behavior. Seizures can cause a sudden sense of unprovoked fear, the sensation of déjà vu, phantom or distorted odors or tastes, a rising sensation in the abdomen that can be mistaken for levitation, staring, loss of awareness of surroundings, confusion, memory loss, sense of being touched, auditory and visual hallucinations and so forth.
Sound familiar? These are all classic claims of haunting victims. While more severe and persistent forms of seizure disorders are less common, occasionally petit mals (FLS or TLS) occur in more than half the population at one time or another. That ghost may just be a momentary short circuit.

9) Physical Illness can also give way to impaired perception. A fever can produce halluscinations as well as countless other conditions.


Our natural Neural Senses may also raise havoc with perception though "Tricks of the Mind". It's au natural although sometimes quite disconcerting. These phenomena can occur as the result of  insufficient  or overwhelming input.

1) "Pareidolia" is a phenomenon that occurs in the presence of random or vague noises and visual stimuli.  The natural responce is to try to make sense out of them through the act of personalization or assigning human qualities to them. It is natural, dating back to the first few weeks of life, when infants tend to perceive angles, contours and shapes that are consistent with faces. Although it is commonly found in those suffering from psychological or neurological illnesses, we are all innately susceptible.  We can see the face of the Man in the Moon, can make out pictures in clouds or discover the Virgin Mary on a slice of toast or on a potato chip. We hear hidden messages in recordings played backwards, hear the phone ringing while we are showering, hear our name called over other sounds among other strange experiences.  

2) Have you ever noticed how in a crowded room your ears take in bits and pieces of many sounds and voices. Since it would be is impossible to hear every detail of every conversation simultaneously, our brain fills in the gaps, right or wrong with what we expect. It's much like the old game of "Telephone" played by schoolchildren where a message is whispered and passed along throughout the room from child to child.  The result is rarely anything remotely related to the inital communication. (This also accounts for arguments between couples where someone ends up accused of things that were never uttered)

3) When an individual is experiencing a loss of perceived control, they detect patterns to regain a sense of organization.  Fear heightens all of the senses which in turn  take in stimuli from the sensory receptors - the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin and nervous system and  assigns it meaning, and interpretation based on experience, context and interpretation. As we desperately attempt to keep our wits about us, we may end up inadvertantly scaring the daylights out of ourselves instead. Shadows take on eerie, life like forms. Simple creaks and groans of a house settling or expanding and contracting due to heat or cold become disembodied voices. Clunks in heating systems are perceived as knocks.  Drafts make the fine hairs on our skin rise and we feel as though we are being touched by invisible hands.

4) Deficits in any of our senses interfere our overall perception. For example, people experiencing mild deafness or partial blindness are prone to hearing music, muffled voices, or sounds to fill in for the deficit. There is increased connectivity between the areas of the brain that process information and in turn the senses can become confused. A flicker or shadowed motion can be sensed as sound or even a tactile sensation. A color may elicit a taste. Numbers may take on shape and color.

5) Similarly, in the absence of sound or especially when exposed to white noise or full spectrum sound, our brains try to find something familiar in it, especially if it contains mixed frequencies and rhythms, similar to voice-like or musical features. We sleep with a "Sound Conditioner". Although it emits "White Sound" we can hear an array of  things within it. If clever, you can even change the channel and listen to a different genre of music that suits your tastes.
6) Our eyes contain a network of rods and cones. The rods are responsible for peripheral vision and see only blurry shades of gray, black and white as well as motion.  The cones process color, but no motion. How often do you hear someone say they saw a fleeting black figure through the corner of their eye? They quickly turn their head and the figure is no longer there. The change in perspective, eliminates what we "Thought" we saw.

Floaters and flashes known as “photopsia” are caused by tiny clumps of gel or cells in the clear jelly-like fluid that fills the back chamber in your eye. Floaters are black are most visible when staring at a solid background. Flashes are more prevalent in the dark. Like so called orbs are to a camera, these anomalies are visible to the naked eye. Les we not forget that our eyes are easily fooled as demonstrated easily with countless optical illusions.


The brain is a incredible computer capable of storing bits of information without our awareness, as in "Subliminal Stimuli".  Our memories can play this back when least expected raising havoc with perception as well.  

1) PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can conjure up memories of terrifying events of the past that have been long repressed. They can come to life in nightmares or hallucinations. Memory without awareness or is normal. Kids who witnessed abuse in their family as young children may have it tucked away, only to have it come back as haunting shadows in their adulthood.

2) Selective Memory gives us a false sence of being "psychic" . You will always remember the time when, by coincidence, you friend calls just as you were about to pick up the phone which leads to a false positive association. However, you will not remember the hundreds of times they were the last thing on your mind when they rang you up. This is known as confirmatory bias. We tend to have much better recall of events and experiences that validate what we believe to be true than those that negate those beliefs.

3)  Things that we dream, especially in the lucid stages of sleep, may seem so lifelike, that we have difficulty distinguishing between imagination and reality. As time passes, our minds distort recollections leaving us prone to false memories, a fact that life regression therapists prey upon.

In the absense of mental or physical abberations, the power of Social Psychology plays a powerful role in perception.

The Power of Suggestion and group dynamics prove that PT Barnum was right when he said, “There is a sucker born every minute.” Tell a group of tourists or investigators ghost stories before the exploring a property and at least one person is guaranteed to experience something. He or she in turn tell others and the experiences grow exponentially. It’s just human nature. 

The brain is expert at pulling the wool over our eyes, as well as all our senses. My daughter's roommate noticed a puddle of water next to the shower. Immediately he assumed that her dog was the culprit. He took off his sock and sniffed it, certain that it smelled of urine, rather than stinky feet. He showed it to his brother, suggesting, "Doesn't this smell like dog piss to you?" He too could smell the offending oder. My daughter sniffed the sock and then boldly tasted the liquid on the floor. It was clear, and void of taste for it was - water that had leaked from the shower door. 
This factor must be taken into consideration when investigators review EVPs (Electronic voice phenomena), so-called disembodied voices that can be picked up on hand held tape recorders, while not being detected by the human ear. In reviewing such evidence, as soon as the first person assigns words to an unexpected noise, especially if it occurs right after a question, everyone nods in agreement and hears the same thing even if it was coincidental contamination from other sources. This is easily avoided when several team members review the same recordings separately and comparing their outcomes.

In paranormal investigations, people are always sent out in groups for safety reasons. While it obviously has its benefits by providing collaboration of events, it also allows group psychology to prevail.  If one person sees a shadow, and three others jump in claiming they saw it too, the guilty party that waved his or her hand in front of a light source will be less likely to speak up and accept responsibilty.  We are only human.


Beliefs can cause one to misinterpret experiences. This has held true throughout history. Schizophrenics, those with Autism or psychosis, people suffering Grand Mal Seizures have all been at one time or another considered to be possessed by a demon. Those whose religious beliefs reject science are likely to turn to evil as an explanation for medical issues.

Irrational beliefs also control our perceptions. For example, if I were to offer $10 to you in return for holding a baby doll, clutching it to your heart, would you do it? Now if I were to tell you that it was owned by a serial killer who would offer it as a lure to attract young children so he could kill and dismember their lifeless bodies who would still be as interested? We view evil as something physical and tangible.  It’s as though it has the ability to spread like an infection.

It is ingrained in our nature from early man to assign a living threat to an unknown and ask questions later.  It’s simply one of the keys to primitive survival. Ancient man would not have survived long if he were to stop and try to do a scientific investigation as to whether that bear like form was about to devour him for dinner or if it was just a harmless rock formation.

Guilt or shame may leave us believeing that anything and everything that goes wrong in our life is a curse or mysterious power out to advenge us. Even the most sensible people will believe in Voodoo, black magic, superstitions if the tides turn against them. It's easier to blame outside forces than to admit we are responsible for bringing on troubles ourselves or giving into the fact that sometimes, the odds are just against us.


To further muddy the waters, just as EMFs coming from items as innocuous as a clock radio can set off seizures in anyone who is prone to them, high tension wires can affect just about anyone and have been suspect in many cases of reputed telekinesis, poltergeist activity and the feeling of uneasiness or being watched. Low-level geomagnetic activity has been shown to affect dreams. Physics can be a sinister, but playful antagonist to our brain.

Infrasounds, low frequency sound waves that cannot be heard by the human ear, have a physiological effect on our bodies, in particular our eyes and their ability to sense motion. Infrasound results naturally from severe weather, surf, lee waves, avalanches, earthquakes, volcanoes, waterfalls, auroras, lightning and upper-atmospheric lightning, tornadoes or turbulent air flow over mountain tops. They can be also produced by man-made vibrations such as those caused by sonic booms, explosions, diesel engines or large-scale subwoofer speakers. These vibrations have been shown to cause feelings of awe & fear in humans. It also explains the incredible highs, besides those induced by pot or beer, that concert goers experience, or why so many theaters are reputed to be haunted.

Warwick scientist, Vic Tandy of Coventry England discovered that the frequency of 18.98 Hz, 19.00 Hz is the ideal frequency, causing eyeballs to vibrate, emotional responses, optical hallucinations, etc…  This experiment was replicated in many places deemed haunted, each with the same results, including a concert titled “Infrasonic” where patrons experienced anxiety, uneasiness, extreme sorrow, nervous feelings of revulsion or fear, chills down the spine and feelings of pressure on the chest.  Sometimes it’s not in what you hear, but what you don’t hear that’s freaking you out.

Geological features of the area such as hill sides that reflect noises in the distance, man made contaminants of the premises such as high levels of electromagnetic energy due to poor wiring, high-tension electrical wires, fluorescent lighting and household appliances; the storage of hazardous chemicals, or simply poor, old or malfunctioning structural details of a building can elicit strange effects and perceptions. Wouldn’t it be great if each team had a building inspector on hand to determine the difference between the creaks and cranks?

Please understand, what I have presented to you is not intended to poo-poo the belief in the paranormal. I’m just playing “devil’s advocate”. Understanding of the psychological and physical factors that I have discussed here are just as important tools to carry with you into an investigation as Infrared cameras, EMF recorders, K-2 sensors, and so forth. It keeps the line between reality and illusion in check. It allows us to explore ourselves and have a clearer idea of why we are here and what it is we are truly searching for.  When it comes down to it, the child in us is always going to want to explore, discover and find answers to the unknown. And no matter how determined we are to view things scientifically, there is nothing like a security blanket to keep us warm and safe at night. The idea is to just “keep it real”.