You might think you control what you're thinking about when in a haunted location, but you don't. Our mind in certain situations can runaway from us and leave us without control.
The East Face of Borley Rectory in 1892.
In 1928 Borley Rectory in Essex became home to Reverend Guy Eric Smith and wife Mabel, but the welcome was anything but warm. The strange activities started with footsteps in the night until one day Mabel was in the library and found a human skull in the bookcase. Mabel interred the skull in the graveyard; this act saw the activity graduate to mysterious lights, taps, window shutters slamming, keys vanishing, bells ringing and whispers in empty rooms. With the activity at a high the skull was put back in the library, but the activity never stopped. A servant of the Smith’s saw a nun in the woods and another saw an old fashioned coach with two headless horsemen driving; Reverend Smith described their time at the house as the "darkest years of their life."
Dr. Ciaran O'Keeffe, parapsychologist and head of academic department in Bucks New University in Buckinghamshire, said: "If people have a very strong belief in the paranormal and something weird happens they're more likely to attribute that to the paranormal than non-paranormal if they've a high belief in it. For some people I think it's about knowledge, it's about knowing the alternative explanations."
According to a YouGov survey, 34 percent of British people believe in ghosts which is one in three people, while 9 percent say they communicated with the dead. How many of these supposed paranormal experiences can be explained through physical factors and when should we start to look further to our own psychology?
There are many physical explanations that can explain paranormal activity such as:
• Camera issues
• Ion levels.
Mary Smith, anomalistic psychologist, whose name has been changed for privacy reasons, said: “Other experiences we associate with seeing ghosts are sudden drop in temperature, strange noises, funny smells you know if you’re walking around an old building the wood's going rotten and there's a draft, yeah you get sudden drops in temperature, but these are all things we associate with seeing ghosts.”
When physical factors can't explain supposed activity that's when we need to look to possible psychological factors.
O'Keeffe said: "Priming and suggestion play huge factors you know if I tell somebody a place is haunted they are more likely to interpret a draft as being a ghost, simply because of the suggestion of telling them that it's a haunted location.
“External suggestion from things like darkness and how a building looks can be quite suggestible. I think the very fact most ghost investigations are conducted at night is also another huge factor in the reason why people have these ghostly experiences. The fact that at night-time it's dark, it taps into anxieties and fears, and all of those things can affect our perception of stuff that is perfectly natural.
“We know with decades of research in psychology that our perception and that's our visual perception, our audio perception, can be affected by different factors and I would say the top five include tiredness. And if you think about an investigator being in a situation where they're investigating from dusk until dawn it means in a particular point during the night and it's normally around two-three o'clock in the morning normally around that particular time they're at their most tired and their perception is severely affected.
However, Jeff Belanger, paranormal investigator from Boston and researcher on the American paranormal TV show Ghost Adventures, said: "At night with your senses a little bit deprived you are going to be sharper and yes you might be a little bit afraid but fear also heightens your senses and that's again a normal process. When you’re afraid your body is getting ready for fight or flight your sight is better your hearing is better, your sense of smell is better everything is better and sharper if you’re a little bit afraid."
O'Keeffe believes this is a "Misunderstanding of your bodily reaction to such circumstances. Actually what would be happening in those sorts of situations is that your adrenaline would be kicking in and actually that would severely affect your perception objective perception at what's happening really you'll be kicking into the fight or flight response."
When it comes to investigating the paranormal investigators say their bodies are their best tool when investigating. The question is can we trust our bodies?
O'Keeffe believes not as "the bodies untrustworthy because we are not able to interpret exactly what's happening to our bodies. Our bodies are very sensitive to changes in the environment but actually our interpretation of how our body reacts is not very good."
Paranormal TV shows use different equipment to measure;
• Ion levels
• Electromagnetic fields
• Barometric pressure
The results from the equipment are interpreted by investigators as proof of a ghost.
O'Keeffe said: "A lot of these ghost shows when they're using environmental monitoring equipment and interpreting it as a presence of a ghost it solely comes down to their misunderstanding about what the equipment should be used for.
“It's very important for investigators to debunk paranormal activity I think that's the key and I would approach any investigation with a whole list of natural explanations and I would have to eliminate each one before I go for a supernatural explanation.”
Before we rush to a possible paranormal explanation we should consider not only physical explanations but psychological ones as well. It's easy for people to think they are rational and analytical thinkers but it takes a wiser and more knowledgeable person to admit that they can be influenced by outside sources. Acknowledging that anything is possible even the unexplained is what a truly skeptical and analytical thinker is. I watch shows like Ghost Adventures and think 'wow' maybe there is life after death and ok they are made for entertainment but that doesn't take away from the fact that these people are documenting proof of the paranormal and taking us on that journey with them which is amazing. So, ask yourself what do you belief?