Spooky phenomena like levitating tables and ghostly goings-on that occur at seances are most likely manifestations of the power of suggestion, say some researchers.

At Fortean Times conventions in London, paranormal investigator Dr. Richard Wiseman arranged two fake seances in which participants were told they would be taking part in a reenactment in which the "medium" would be an actor. Even though they were told it was not a "real" seance, 30 percent of those who participated were convinced they saw a luminous-edged table levitate in the air —when it was suggested by the staged medium that it would do so.

The "seance" was filmed in infrared light so they had proof that the table did not move, yet 30 percent of people believed it had levitated, Wiseman stated. Wiseman said, "These seances are pretty spooky. We're arguing that some seance phenomena are down to the power of suggestion." Conceding that there might indeed be other explanations, and sometimes even an element of fraud or trickery, Wiseman expressed there were no supernatural forces at work.

The experiments were carried out with Emma Greening, also from the University of Hertfordshire, and Dr. Matthew Smith from Liverpool Hope University College.

In another study, with people who claimed to be highly intuitive, Wiseman and his colleague, Dr. Paul Rogers, produced results to show their claims might be something else. Their findings indicated that being highly intuitive may be a result of their simply being good at assessing strangers' personality traits.

Wendy Snowden and Kei Ito, both researchers from the University of Buckingham, reported in another study that the feeling of having been there before, known as "deja vu," was a very common experience associated with the particular personality traits of extroversion and emotional disorders.

The researchers' findings were presented at the European Congress of Psychology, organized by the British Psychological Society in London.


British Psychological Society. 15 October 2001.

British Psychological Society Report to European Congress of Psychology. N.p., 2001.

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