Can the Paranormal Be Psychological?
The Psychology Behind Haunted Locations
The existence of ghosts is widely debated in our world. There are those on every level ranging from those that claim to see and speak to the dead, those that believe there is something paranormal in our world and have general experiences, and those that claim all stories are fake and are generally skeptical that there is a way for a spirit to live on after the body is long gone. Many documented events occur in haunted locations where individuals see, hear, and experience the same things which allow many to assume this landmark is haunted. However, could this be a case of worldwide conformity and psychological manipulation rather than lived incidents?
Whether or not a person believes in ghosts can largely be described on their views of the afterlife and, in a sense, can also be influenced by religion. However, when if an individual hears repeatedly and constantly reads about a haunting and what it feels like, perhaps the brain can trick that person into believing it is happening once they enter a location that has a history of paranormal activity. The Illusory Truth Effect is a psychological phenomenon that causes people to believe information or facts after being exposed to that information repeatedly. If we think of the many common myths that have been repeated our whole lives, we tend to believe them as fact and not believe those that challenge those thoughts we believe to be true. That simply being cold can make you sick, touching a toad can give you warts, and you should tilt your head back during a nose bleed to help stop bleeding. However, when you research these "facts" that we have heard our entire lives, we find that most of those are simply myths. Examples of the Illusory Truth Effect is also a large part in media and political advertisements; if you hear someone or something is great or terrible enough, you tend to sway your opinion and biases based on the repeated statements and information despite as large or little as they may be.
Now, how does this phenomenon link to the paranormal and people's experiences? While growing up, we saw movies, read books, or heard stories of what happens when things are haunted and when ghosts are around. We get cold spots, things fall, an uneasy feeling, hearing whispering, and most things that we would write off as coincidence immediately turn to the paranormal. If we are taught and conditioned to believe this is what happens when something is haunted or there is a ghost around, all these things might be considered coincidence become a haunting. Let's say you're going to a haunted location for a vacation or a trip to experience it for yourself. You do research on, we'll say, the Stanley Hotel in Colorado. This hotel is said to be one of the most haunted of its kind and gave the author Stephen King inspiration for his novel 'The Shining' based on his experiences. During your research, you find that the most common supernatural occurrences are feeling a cold chill in hallways, hearing knocking and voices, seeing figures pass in windows and mirrors, lights turning on and off, and cameras having trouble focusing.
If you were to hear of these many things that have happened to others that have visited this hotel and you think and talk about it the entire trip as if it was fact, when you get there, you could experience these same events—or did you? If you are expecting to hear or see these things, your brain begins to trick you into thinking it is happening. Our brain is an incredible thing that will protect itself from emotional and mental trauma in dangerous situations and can change our way of thinking. In a way, to help ourselves, our brain might manipulate ourselves or our other senses if it feels necessary. You are walking through the halls of the Stanley Hotel late at night, and you feel a cold chill, and then you hear a couple of loud thumps. Rather than rationalizing by thinking 'Perhaps there's a draft or a vent from an air conditioner here' or 'Someone in their room is simply banging around or dropping something' your mind goes somewhere else. Because you are expecting these events that correlate with everyone's opinion on what ghost activity it, your brain throws rationalization out the window and causes a small level of panic and anxiety while believing there is a slight danger. This, in turn, causes the rush of adrenaline that makes our body more sensitive. The pressure in your chest, and the sinking feeling of being watched, and your hairs standing on end are more a result of your brain and yourself tricking the rest of your body and senses into thinking there is a potential danger and keeping you on alert. When the brain and body go into this state, it's not too far off to assume auditory and visual hallucinations come with it; whispers that aren't there and a speck of dust in your peripheral vision could seem to be a ghostly figure streaking past or whispering in your ear.
The most famous case of this is the Amityville House, which many recall from the Amityville Horror book or movies. A man killed his family with an ax, and when a new family moves in, they experience severe hauntings and paranormal activity, it caught the interests of everyone. They talk about demonic hoofprints in the snow, doors being ripped off the hinges, things being thrown around, seeing apparitions and hearing voices. Many psychics came to the location and agreed angry spirits were causing the hauntings. While this story has been under scrutiny for authenticity since the beginning, many don't' realize it was proven as a hoax. The lawyer of the murderer, Ronald DeFeo Jr., went to the family and they compiled this scenario so he could convince the court he was manipulated by the devil and get him off on an easier sentence. The family could then sell the rights to their story and make money off it, making it a win-win for all.
This example shows how the mind can trick a person if they are told enough times that something it fact. People that went there claimed they felt and witnessed what the family said was happening, but none of that happened in the first place. It was all fabricated to manipulate the masses. Could some spirits linger there from the gruesome murders? It's possible—it's not in my place to say. However, this example goes to show that the most haunted locations people go to and have these experiences, could all be nothing but their minds creating what they think is supposed to happen.
My intention is not to discredit those that believe in ghosts, believe they can see and talk to them, or see it as a sense of comfort with the thought that there is more to look forward to at the end of this life than just darkness and death. However, I believe understanding psychological phenomena can help a person gain a better understanding of those unexplained events around them and find they might be easily explained after all. The brain is a magnificent organ that keeps us striving through this lifetime, but it can also be damaging if we aren't careful to protect it from what could be false information. By pouring information and information into the brain, it is also important to research phenomenon with the brain to see why we think and feel certain ways in situations. I do not believe all those that have encountered paranormal activity are lying or being tricked; there is plenty of skeptics that go into haunted locations believing there is nothing to come out on the other side with information they just can't understand or rationalize. There are video and photographic evidence of hauntings that were captured that many have trouble explaining. What happens after death is uncertain, and if a place isn't haunted and those in charge rely on people's brains to create the stories themselves, in the end, it's harmless as it all ends in good fun and a story a person can take to their friends and family to help spark conversation.