Hearing ghost voices relies on pseudoscience and the unreliability of human perception

Hearing ghost voices relies on pseudoscience and the unreliability of human perception
28 March 2024 J.W.H

Non-trivial numbers of Americans imagine in paranormal phenomena. These beliefs have spawned hundreds groups dedicated to investigating paranormal phenomena and their spread entries about ghost hunting in the truth television market. Anecdotal evidence even suggests ghost hunting reality shows do increased openness of society for paranormal investigations, which generally involve a small group wandering through supposedly haunted locations at night using various ghost hunting technologies.

Sound recorders play a crucial role in paranormal research tool kits. Microphones pick up ambient sounds throughout the investigation. Later, the audio recordings are looked for messages from the spirits. The premise is that sound recording devices can record inaudible communications from disembodied entities.

These alleged messages were dubbed electronic voice phenomena (EVP). The sounds are generally short – most examples consist of single words or short phrases. Perceived EVP content ranges from threatening (“You're going to hell”) to bizarre (“Egypt, air“).

The Vice President recorded at Lizzie Borden's home.

Part of the audio recorder's appeal to paranormal investigators is its apparent objectivity. How could a skeptic disprove the authenticity of a spirit captured by an impartial technical instrument? Believers imagine that EVP is irrefutable evidence of external communication. However, recent research in my lab has shown that folks disagree on many issues What, if anything, they hear EVP sounds – a result that might be easily explained by the unreliability of human perception. Despite its technological pitfalls, EVP research has several hallmarks of pseudoscience.

What are the sounds of EVP?

The chain of evidence for many alleged EVPs makes it difficult to rule out fraud, but let's assume that a lot of these sounds should not intentional fraud. IN some casesalleged EVPs are investigators' voices or interference from radio transmissions – problems that time to shoddy data collection practices. Other research, nevertheless, suggested that EVPs were recorded under controlled acoustic conditions in recording studios. What are the possible explanations for these sounds?

A critical step in EVP research is when strange sounds are interpreted as voices communicating with intent. Paranormal investigators typically decode the content of EVPs by reaching a consensus amongst themselves. EVP web sites advise paranormal investigators to ask themselves: “Is that a voice…are you sure?” or “Share your results with other researchers and try to stop researcher bias when reviewing data” This is the methodological difficulty.

Research in mainstream psychology has shown that folks perceive words with ease strings of meaningless speech sounds. People's expectations about who they’re supposed hear may result illusory perception of tones, sounds of nature, sounds of machines and even voices when there is barely acoustic white noise – just like the sound of a detuned radio. Interpreting speech in noise – a situation just like EVP where the alleged voice is difficult to differentiate – it might change completely depending on what the listener expects to listen to.

But if it's not a ghost….
Valeria Everett, CC BY-SA

EVP within the perceptual research laboratory

In my lab recently conducted an experiment to look at how expectations may influence perceptions of an alleged EVP. Our vice chairman was audio recordings from reality show about ghost hunting.

We asked three questions: Do people perceive alleged EVPs as votes under controlled conditions? If they hear voices, do they agree on what the voices are saying, but they should not told what they need to hear? Finally, does it matter whether or not they imagine the research topic is paranormal or not?

Half of the participants were told that the experiment was a part of an EVP paranormal research project. The other half were told that we were studying speech perception in noisy environments – a typical (if perhaps boring) experiment within the psychology of perception.

In the study, participants heard a sound and were asked whether or not they detected a voice within the stimulus. If they answered “no”, the method ended. If they answered yes, they reported what they thought the voice said. During the study, participants heard an alleged EVP, recordings of actual human speech, recordings of human speech obscured by noise, and recordings of the noise itself. EVP sounds and speech in noise were inherently ambiguous – in some ways they sounded as if the voice was present and in some ways they didn’t.

Compared to the control condition, the suggestion of a mystical research topic increased the likelihood that folks heard voices in each EVP (48% vs. 34% of yes responses) and voices hidden in noise (58% vs. 40 % “yes” “answers”). For real human speech, all participants almost all the time heard a voice (99% “yes” responses), and for noise, all participants almost never heard a voice (1% “yes” responses). Suggesting the subject of paranormal research was subsequently only relevant if the sound was ambiguous.

Moreover, when people claimed to have heard a voice within the EVP, only 13% agreed on what precisely the voice said. By comparison, a median of 95% of individuals agreed on what the voice said once they heard actual speech.

In the ultimate evaluation, we showed that participants' interpretations agreed with paranormal investigators' interpretations lower than 1% of the time. These findings suggest that paranormal investigators shouldn’t depend on their very own subjective assessments to verify the content of EVPs.

But perhaps most significantly, we showed that the mere suggestion of a mystical research context increased the likelihood that folks would hear voices in ambiguous stimuli, though they may not agree on what the voices were saying.

A perceptual explanation of EVP

This can't just be a coincidence!
Jeff Noble, CC BY

We concluded that EVPs are an auditory example of pareidolia – the tendency to perceive human characteristics using meaningless perceptual patterns. There are many visual examples of pareidolia – things like seeing human faces in on a regular basis objects (like Jesus in toast).

Cognitive psychology research has shown that folks who imagine within the paranormal could also be like this particularly liable to misperception of probability events. The configuration resembling a face in a slice of toast seems significant. People ask, “What are the chances?” But should you add up all of the slices of toast you see over the times, weeks and months of your life, it’s inevitable that you’ll encounter a few of these human configurations in your toast as a result of probability.

Similarly, paranormal investigators record a virtually unlimited amount of sound and use all types of sound processing techniques, including filter sounds to remove specific frequencies and increase the amount. Inevitably, they’re able to find audio samples that sound a bit like a voice.

Assuming that some voice-like sounds can’t be attributed to shoddy data collection practices, their actual sources likely run the gamut from ambient sounds to electrical noise to audio processing artifacts. If a listener intensely expects to listen to a certain person, virtually any sound can meet those expectations. One creator aptly suggested that EVPs are like auditory spots test: a blank slate onto which the listener can project any interpretation. There is probably going a bent for EVP researchers to listen to a voice – a meaningful sound that has agency and intention reinforced by the suggestion of a mystical context.

The technological trappings of ghost hunting can add a sheen of objectivity.

EVP research bears the hallmarks of pseudoscience

Pseudoscience might be seen as an appearance of adhering to the values ​​of science. Objectivity in EVP research is identified with using a technological recording device per se, but subjectivity pervades the critical stage of interpreting what sounds mean. In science, objectivity is a critical value for researchers – a perfect that we profess attempt to apply to all facets of inquiry – not a feature of our equipment.

Another feature of pseudoscience is lack of integration with related research areas. There is wealthy history using experimental methods to check auditory perception, yet EVP enthusiasts are either unaware of this necessary work or consciously ignore it.

Science also values avarice – the view that the only explanation is preferred. To explain EVP consequently of human auditory perception, we’d like a theory that explains how and why human listeners sometimes misperceive ambiguous stimuli.

In fact, this very tendency is one in every of many well-documented cognitive functions shortcuts which will have adaptive value. The voice may indicate the presence of a possible partner or enemy, so within the case of ambiguous auditory stimuli, it might be useful to go away the side of the perceiving entity.

The theory of paranormal phenomena is way more complex. We need to elucidate how disembodied entities acquire agency. We need to elucidate why they will produce sound, but only communicate through audio recordings fairly than simply speaking out loud. We need to elucidate why they apparently cannot speak clearly in full sentences, but only in brief, garbled, often seemingly random phrases.

What's the harm?

Many types of popular entertainment require suspension of disbelief, and hopefully viewers of paranormal reality shows will concentrate to the entertainment fairly than the scientific value of those shows. However, there are a lot of necessary public issues about which there are pseudoscientific beliefs harmed public discourse.

Currently, it is barely limited, preliminary evidence link exposure to pseudoscience on television with pseudoscientific beliefs. Still one the study showed that folks find paranormal research more credible and scientific when it’s shown using technological tools similar to recording devices. Other evidence suggested this popular opinion may trump scientific credibility when people evaluate pseudoscientific claims.

A very good ghost story can have entertainment and even cultural value, but the favored portrayal of pseudoscientific practices as science can hamper efforts to shape a scientifically literate society.

Image Source: Pixabay.com

  • J.W.H

    About John:

    John Williams is a Reincarnationist paranormal Intuitive freelance writer...he is living proof of reincarnation existence, through his personal exploration, he has confirmed its authenticity through visits to the very lands where these events transpired.

    Through guided meditation/s using hemi-sync technology he has managed to recollect 3 previous lives to his own, that go back to the Mid to Late 19th century.

    JWH - "You are the GODS! - Inclusion of the Eternal Light of Love and you shall never die”.

    “Death is Just the Beginning of Life”