In Psychology there is a concept in which “an influence is exerted by the experimenter’s expectations or other characteristics on the results of an experiment” (Oxford Dictionary). This concept is called the “experimenter effect.” Throughout science, it is understood that the mere presence of a person observing a situation can affect the outcome. How does this idea relate to paranormal investigation? Our research is not isolated to a lab space where we can control for a variety of factors and safely remove ourselves from the experiment. Instead, we work in what would be considered field research and as such, we fully participate in the experiment. Our presence at a location and our expectations of the haunt type phenomena we will experience could have the potential to alter the phenomena we are hoping to document. We are active participants in the environment so it shouldn’t be too surprising that we could affect that environment.
I have visited locations early in the popularity of that particular building and returned to find the environment has changed at a later date. In one particular situation, I have been watching it happen online via the locations facebook page. These changes are often considered exciting for investigators as the activity ramps up and the likelihood of evidence increases. While being able to gather more data could be seen as positive, we also must consider our effect on whatever may be causing the phenomena.
If we are working on the assumption that the experiences we have at these locations are interactions with the deceased, then we have to consider how our actions may affect those deceased individuals. Imagine that you are visiting a location where a spirit is particular about things being orderly and quiet. You then introduce groups of investigators on several nights throughout the week. These investigators stomp through the house, asking questions, demanding responses, and moving around items. Some of these investigators may have personalities not appreciated by this particular spirit and he/she gets increasingly upset. Therefore the increased activity is a direct result of a consistent pattern of individuals pushing the buttons of the spirits.
Another effect that has been theorized is the creation of egregores/thought forms. These are believed to be created by groups of people focusing on a specific idea or belief. Over time, these ideas become “real” to an extent. An experiment was conducted by a Toronto parapsychological research society in 1972 to see if the group could create a fictional character and then communicate through seance with this creation. They named their spirit Phillip and after some time felt that they had received rapping sounds as responses to questions that matched the information they created for Phillip. While this experiment has many flaws, there have been documented incidents in recent years of new hauntings occurring in locations that reflect certain attitudes or beliefs of investigators who have visited repeatedly. Recently, Kindred Spirits documented this effect (Season 5, Episode 2 Zombie Boy) and the team was very concerned about the implications of this finding.
As investigators, we have a responsibility to utilize as much verified history as possible to conduct our investigations. We do not want to create or perpetuate stories that are untrue. The point of most investigations is to uncover the truth behind haunt type phenomena; unless you want to replicate this experiment. Then I recommend being careful in location choice and speaking with the owner before you do anything.
You might ask, “what is the harm in any of this?” With thought forms, there are two concerns. One, if it is really possible, we could potentially create something harmful. Two, creating spirits would make it more difficult to legitimize paranormal investigation as we could just be “making things up.” As for purposely irritating spirits, I’m going to turn this around on the individual and ask you to reflect on what you hope for in the afterlife. Imagine this is you and you have no say in the changes occurring around you. You still believe this is your home but you have no control. People keep coming into your home and making loud noises, asking stupid questions, and making a mess. In this case, we are adding distress to a situation that may already be less than ideal. We may also be pushing the buttons of something that will eventually try to lash out at the people visiting the home. Either situation can end poorly for the investigator, the location owner, and whatever phenomena that exists within the location. In the end, I hope you take a moment to think about how you may affect the locations you visit and recognize the responsibility you have to be honest and respectful in all that you do.
Until next time, Happy Hunting!