Via The Bent Spoon
Once upon a time, there was a wannabe ghost hunter. She watched TV shows featuring paranormal investigators going into haunted locations and capturing real ghost voices on their recorders. Finding this incredibly cool, she visited websites where ghost hunters from all over uploaded creepy recordings of spirit voices. She bought a recorder like the ones she saw on TV and did her own EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) experiments. She lived in a house where a previous owner died on the dining room floor. Lights went on and off by themselves, faint disembodied voices and footsteps were heard and unexplained shadows were glimpsed out of the corner of the eye. So obviously, it had to be haunted. She wanted to prove to others that the ghosts were actually there, and she also wanted to hear what they had to say. Why were they there? Were they “stuck” from unfinished business? Were they attached to the house or something in it? So, just like the investigators on TV, she held her inexpensive recorder and asked questions. On playback, she was excited to hear responses. It was hard to make out the words, but as some ghost hunting experts will explain, sometimes the spirits just don’t have enough “energy” to speak clearly. One night, she got a reply which sounded more like a snarl. It scared her, and after stinking up the house with burning sage, she stopped doing sessions in her own home.
Yep, that was me several years ago. Back before I took the time to learn about recorders, recording techniques, what environmental factors can affect recorders, and what physiological and psychological factors affect how a person can misinterpret sounds. Luckily, I can laugh at myself now. But what isn’t funny is the fact that there are paranormal investigators going into people’s homes or businesses and, because they are making the same mistakes I once made, presenting frightened clients with false positives and calling them ghost voices. As I mentioned in my article “The Evocative EVP” (
) while more ghost hunting groups are finally acknowledging that there are natural explanations for orb photos, many of these same people are still clinging to their EVPs with a death grip. I believe this might be because listening is more subjective; you can easily see how orbs are recreated, but replicating false positive EVPs may be more complicated due to various factors. There have been reliable scientific studies showing that people hear things that are not there. One study, discussed in Mary Roach’s book Spook, illustrates this and is relevant to EVP review. Subjects were asked to transcribe a poorly recorded lecture. Many were able to hear words and even complete phrases. However, in reality, the recording was nothing but white noise. Ambient sounds can easily be misinterpreted as voices especially with priming, and when they are within certain frequencies and rhythms causing the brain to automatically switch to speech mode. Personally, I’ve participated in many audio reviews where people swore they heard a meaningful response when all I heard was something akin to “Glarmpht”. So even if something sounds like a voice or a phrase, it doesn’t mean that it is. And even if it is, you still have are left with the task of proving that it belongs to a ghost.
Priming and expectation influence what we hear. If we expect (or really want to) hear a voice or certain response, it is likely we will, because our brains are wired to make random information fit into patterns. Understanding speech is much more involved than just our ears hearing what sounds are being produced by vocal cords. We perceive speech by using other senses and the brain processing the combined sensory information, as well as drawing from our memory. One interesting example of how other senses can influence hearing is the McGurk Effect. Subjects watch a video of a person saying one phoneme while the audio is playing another. Subjects see the person say, “Fa fa fa”, and they hear, “Fa fa fa.” However, the audio is actually playing “Ba Ba Ba.” When the subjects close their eyes, they hear “Ba ba ba”, but interestingly, when some open their eyes again and watch the video, they again hear “Fa fa fa” even though they now know that’s not correct.
Bobby Nelson, co-founder and contributing writer for The Bent Spoon Magazine, has conducted experiments demonstrating how priming and expectation influences what we hear. In one experiment . . .
- Report: Things Get Spooky While Ghost Hunting at The William Heath Davis House in San Diego (dreadcentral.com)
- Paranormal Corner: Do you believe in ghosts? (nj.com)
- Spirit Bilocation: Is it possible? (bigseance.com)
- Paranormal group reports signs of ghosts (newsnet5.com)
- Thoughts on Ghost Hunting the Crawl Space (phergoph.wordpress.com)
- The people who think they tune into dead voices (sott.net)
- EVP – Speaking With Dead (vineoflife.net)
- Back to the Basics – How to Record EVP (thehauntedvoice.wordpress.com)