Thursday, 27 August 2009

Alien Abduction and Contactees...

I am doing a bit of research into the alien abduction and contactee phenomenon with the aim of writing a short article about my findings.

I am interested in the phenomenology of the experience: what it looks, sounds, smells and feels like to the experiencer, and how the experience has affected the world-view and life-style of the contactees.

I am also interested in the sociology of the movement itself: who has these experiences, how old are they, where do the experiences happen, what are their beliefs, what is the sex composition of the experiencer movement, are experiencers in contact with others who have had similar encounters, and so on...

So far I have received several accounts, each one of them a fascinating story.

The research is based around a short questionnaire, which can be downloaded HERE.

If you have had an abduction experience, or have had contact with extraterrestrials in any other way, and would like to assist me in this research, then simply download this QUESTIONNAIRE, fill it in and return it to

I am particularly interested in experiencers from the UK.

Your help would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Some Initial Findings From Ghost Hunter Questionnaires...

Although the project is not fully complete, in that I am expecting to receive at least a few more completed questionnaires, it is possible to note a few patterns in the data already collected.

So far 14 questionnaires have been returned (which represents a very small sample size), by various individuals currently involved in Ghost Hunting teams and Paranormal Investigation groups.

The following is a preliminary breakdown of some of the findings so far.

Age & Sex composition

Of this sample 50% is male and 50% female, with an average age of 40 years (with a range og 28-52 years).

Years of Investigation

The average number of years spent actively investigating the paranormal for the respondents is 6 (with a range of 0.5-15 years).


57% of respondents consider the work they undertake to be scientific (i.e. utilise specialist equipment in the search for quantifiable data), while 48% do not consider their work to be scientific.

In this sample, so far, 57% of respondents are regularly assisted by mediums on their investigations, while the remaining 48% are not.

Formal Training

71% of respondents have not undertaken any formal parapsychological training, with only 29% having done so.

Belief in Ghosts and Direct Experience

Of the respondents so far 65% claimed belief in ghosts or spirits (although there were considerable differences in interpretation and definition of what such entities actually are), 21% reported that they were uncertain as to whether they believed in the existence of ghosts, and 14% did not believe in the existence of ghosts at all.

79% of respondents claimed to have had direct experience of ghosts/apparitions, 14% claimed no direct experience, while 7% were uncertain as to whether they had had direct experience or not.

Religiosity and Spirituality

Only 29% of respondents reported that they were religious/spiritual, while the remaining 71% reported that they were not religious.

Life after Death

64% of respondents reported that they believe in life after death (although interpretations and definitions differed between individuals), the remaining 36% do not.

Psychic Abilities

36% of respondents consider themselves to have some form of psychic ability, the remaining 64% did not.

Other Paranormal Experiences

57% reported that they have had other paranormal experiences (e.g. OBE, NDE, UFO sighting, Pre-Cognition, Sleep Paralysis, etc.), while 43% had no other paranormal experiences.

57% of the respondents actively investigate other paranormal phenomena (e.g. UFOs, cryptozoology, etc), while 43% are only engaged in the investigation of ghost type phenomena.


Although this is only preliminary data, insights into the sociology of ghost hunting groups are already being revealed.

A more detailed analysis of the data will be available shortly, hopefully with a larger sample size, that will discuss emergent patterns in the data: for example the relationship between seance attendance and belief in ghosts, religious beliefs and direct experience of the paranormal and so on. Specific case studies of respondents will also be discussed.

I will consider the relationship between conclusions drawn from this data set and those derived from other studies in order to explore the wider context, for example with regard to sex composition, personality types, boundaries and so on.

If you consider yourself a Ghost Hunter, or Paranormal Investigator, and would like to assist me in this research, then simply download this QUESTIONNAIRE, fill it in and return it to

Your help would be greatly appreciated.

Friday, 14 August 2009

The Portrayal of Spiritualism in the popular media...

Spiritualism, and indeed most paranormal beliefs, have long borne the brunt of ridicule and humiliation; a trend that appears to be continuing. This is likely a concomitant aspect of the general movement towards rationalisation and secularisation that has been taking place over the last 200 years or so, particularly in Europe and North America.

A recent documentary on Channel 4, "Revelations: Talking With the Dead", although providing a fascinating insight into the lives of an East London Spiritualist Church congregation, continued to report based upon the assumption that the beliefs they held were false.

There has been a similar problem in the attempts of anthropologists and sociologists studying Spiritualist groups. Vieda Skultans' (1974) classic study of Spiritualism in a Welsh town focused primarily on the social function of the Spiritualist meetings: on the fact that such gatherings allow for an escape from the mundaneity of day-to-day living and the therapeutic effects this necessarily entails. While this is undoubtedly a significant factor, it inherently ignores the claims of those participating in the groups to communication with spirit entities and other psi phenomena.

The assumption that paranormal beliefs are unfounded and inherently false inevitably leads to a distorted representation of the individuals world-view: it makes them appear ridiculous. A substantial amount of "backstory" is ignored. This is most clearly visible in the documentary sequence between Keith Hudson and the Publican. The Publican is unaware of the philosophical underpinnings of what Keith is saying, so that when Keith speaks of the notion that a spirit chooses his/her parents before incarnating on the Earth-plane, or of the intensity of colours in the spirit world, to the Publican he is doing no more than ranting like a madman. This is very difficult to avoid. It brought to mind classic scenarios of visionary mystics being ridiculed as madmen.

The documentary did provide a fascinating social insight into the lives of the spiritualist congregation, but to some extent I feel that it missed the point; as do many commentators on spiritualism and paranormal belief. Without the necessary appreciation of underlying philosophical and experiential understanding, paranormal beliefs can appear fully irrational and entirely at odds with the "real world". This is unfair.

The anthropologist E.E. Evans Pritchard was one of the first anthropologists to question the assumption that so-called "primitive" beliefs were irrational. Through living amongst the Azande of North Africa, Evans Pritchard came to appreciate the inherent logic in their supernatural belief system. Living within a belief system provides the anthropologist with a necessary "insider" perspective, through which a more substantial understanding can be gleaned.

I have mentioned Edith Turner's 1992 article "The Reality of Spirits" a number of times, and feel I must do so again here. Turner calls for a new approach to the sudy of religious beliefs, one that does not ignore the understanding of those under study. Such an approach might also benefit documentary makers. I am certain that the filmmakers did not intend to make their interviewees appear irrational or foolish, but through presenting their story without providing a deeper context to the Spiritualist movement and its related phenomena the documentary, to my mind, alienated the interviewees. As isolated examples, devoid of wider context the interviewees were made to appear particularly insular, and hence abnormal. The truth of the matter is, however, that there is a much wider context than the documentary even hinted at (i.e. historical background of spiritualism and mediumship, survival research, altered states of consciousness, countless narrative accounts of the phenomenology of mediumship, etc.).

All in all, though, this documentary was very interesting. It was good to see the topics discussed made available to a wider audience in a relatively un-biased fashion.

As an interesting side-note: several commentators on the Channel 4 page for the documentary have noted the presence of Orbs around one of the interviewees.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Trance & Possession-like behaviours...

I have recently become interested in behaviours that superficially resemble trance communication and possession behaviours, and am particularly interested in the possibility of neurophysiological similarities, or differences, between them.

Some of the physical symptoms of possession cases include:

  • Erratic movement
  • Manipulation of vocal tonality
  • Presentation of at least one other personality distinct from the host

Trance communication behaviours include:

  • Manipulation of vocal tonality
  • Personality shifts
  • Eyes closed (often but not always)

The following clips contain what I would consider to be trance-like or possession-like behaviours.


This is, of course, a fairly exaggerated example of the way in which acting can superficially resemble the trance and possession states. An actor changes his/her voice, mannerisms, characteristics and even appearance when performing a role. Impersonators take on specific real life personalities, while ventriloquists are able to project their voices often while performing as several different characters simultaneously.

Studies have been conducted with the aim of determining whether the neurophysiology of individuals suffering from psychopathological disorders differs from that of method actors feigning the disorder. EEG results revealed significant differences in brain activity between actors faking emotions and patients with emotional disorders (Tucker & Dawson, 1984). Similar research has also been conducted on individuals suffering from psychophysiological movement disorders (e.g. being unable to move one's arm) and individuals pretending to have the same disorder. PET scans showed significant differences in the neurological activity of the patient and the feigner (Spence, et al., 2000).

In certain situtations, then, acting can clearly be distinguished from specific neurophysiological disorders.

Unfortunately I am unaware of any studies that have specifically compared the EEG recordings of actors and trance mediums/possessed individuals.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID):

EEG studies with DID patients have revealed differences in neurophysiological activity between the host and his/her alter personalities, while alter personalities performed by professional actors failed to replicate these differences “indicating that EEG coherence, at least in the present study is not able to be simulated or faked from information relating to age and sex” (Hopper et al., 2002, 84). Alter personalities are seemingly correlated with “greater alpha band spectral power” (2002, 76).

In trance mediums it is not uncommon for individual controls to come through unexpectedly, even when another communicator is making itself known. Occasionally this is put down to the strength of the individual control: the stronger (i.e. more developed) spirit would be better able to make itself apparent through the medium, while less developed spirits may be supplanted, or even replaced. Crabtree (1988) recalls a several cases of Dissociative Identity Disorder in which an alter, apparently more socially successful (i.e. more confident, outgoing, etc.), has attempted, and in some cases succeeded, to take complete control of the host: entirely supplanting their personality.

Severe distress:

This boy had his World of Warcraft account cancelled, which apparently set him off on a tantrum. It is interesting to note the similarities between some of his erratic behaviours and certain behaviours observed in cases of possession and possession-trance:

  • Bodily convulsions
  • Manipulation of vocal tonality
  • Self-destructive behaviours

Might it be possible to suggest that times of great emotional distress can precipitate into possession behaviours? Much parapsychological attention has been paid to the relationship between adolescent emotional states and manifestations of the paranormal: the Enfield poltergeist case of 1977 is perhaps one of the most well-known examples. On this occasion “poltergeist activity” was seemingly occurring in a locus around 11-year old Janet Hodgson:

The Hydesville incident of 1848 (the official birth of the Spiritualist movement) was centred on the Fox sisters, Kate and Margaret.

Many, particularly European, cases of possession revolve around an adolescent protagonist. Examples would include the case of Annelise Michel in 1975, whose problems began at age 16.

Mediumship, Channelling & Possession...

So how do these similar behaviours relate to mediumship, channelling and spirit possession?

From the outside these behaviours appear to resemble each other, but it might be possible to distinguish between them based upon tangible neurophysiological differences.

EEG research conducted on meditators and channellers has revealed distinctive patterns of brain activation when such practitioners enter into altered states of consciousness (ASCs). In particular there is a trend towards greater hemispheric synchronisation, particularly in the alpha wave frequency range. (Klimo, 1987, 268). Oohashi et al. (2002), in a study of Balinese possession, demonstrated that the EEG readings for an individual undergoing spirit possession (in the Balinese tradition) are significantly different to those of individuals with psychopathological or neurophysiological disorders: “The EEG of the possessed subject did not show any pathological findings including epileptic discharges” (2002, 435). In addition the possessed individual displayed “enhanced power in the theta and alpha frequency bands during the trance” (ibid.).

Altered states of consciousness, then, possess their own distinctive patterns of brain activation which can be compared and contrasted with those of individuals performing similar behaviours. As already mentioned, I am unaware of any research that has specifically compared the EEG readings of mediums, channels and those undergoing spirit possession, with readings from actors/impersonators/ventriloquists, DID/MPD and those experiencing intense emotional states. The data I have been able to find appear to suggest that neurophysiological differences would be detectable, and that acting, feigning and simulating do not inherently induce neurophysiological processes analogous to either pathological disorders or mediumship/channelling/possession, even if the physical manifestation of behaviour is similar. The dominance of alpha frequency neural activity during trance and in the alter personalities of DID patients is also fascinating.

This article is, of course, incomplete, but I hope that it may stimulate a little thought on the issues raised. Feedback and discussion would be most welcome.


Crabtree, A. 1988. Multiple Man: Explorations in Possession and Multiple Personality Disorder. Great Britain: Grafton Books.

Hopper, A., Ciorciari, J., Johnson, G., Spensley, J, Sergejew, A., Stough, C.M. 2002. EEG Coherence and Dissociative Identity Disorder. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 75-88.

Klimo, J. 1987. Channeling: Investigations on Receiving Information from Paranormal Sources. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher Inc.

Oohashi, T., Kawai, N., Honda, M., Nakamura, S., Morimoto, M., Nishina, E., Maekawa, T. 2002. Electroencephalographic measurement of possession trance in the field. Clinical Neurophysiology, No. 113, pp. 435-445.

Spence, S.A., Crimlisk, H.L., Cope, H., Ron, M.A., Grasby, P.M. 2000. Discrete neurophysiological correlates in prefrontal cortex during hysterical and feigned disorder of movement. The Lancet, Vol. 355.

Tucker, D.M., & Dawson, S.L. 1984. Asymmetric EEG Changes as Method Actors Generated Emotions. Biological Psychology, Vol. 19, pp. 63-75.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Ghost Hunting Research...

I am currently undertaking a small research project into Ghost Hunters & Paranormal Investigators with the aim of writing a short article about my findings.

I am interested in exploring the beliefs and experiences of those who actively engage in searching for the supernatural, and am particularly interested in the link between "belief in ghosts", the attendance of seance circles and other encounters with different forms of supernatural/paranormal experience.

The research is based primarily around a questionnaire, which can be downloaded HERE, that I have sent to various Ghost Hunting and Paranormal Investigation groups in the UK, US and Canada. The responses I have had back so far have proven to be very interesting. I would like for the sample size for this research to be relatively large, and would therefore welcome anyone who would be willing to help me gather data.

If you consider yourself a Ghost Hunter, or Paranormal Investigator, and would like to assist me in this research, then simply download this QUESTIONNAIRE, fill it in and return it to

Your help would be greatly appreciated.