Talking to the Dead, Listening to Yourself: An Empirical Study on the Psychological Aspects of Interpreting Electronic Voice Phenomena

Article excerpt

PUBLIC INTEREST IN CONDUCTING INVESTIGATIONS of paranormal phenomena has recently increased, in part due to a number of television shows purporting to show scientists at work investigating haunted locations. Most of us have seen footage of ghost hunters who go out of their way to express a skeptical viewpoint, and who create the impression of scientific rigor by carrying complicated-looking measuring devices--gadgets with meters and switches and lights! A plethora of technical devices detect supposed anomalies such as unexpected temperature changes, electromagnetic fields (EMF), or mysterious noises that are typically interpreted as communication with otherworldly entities, such as ghosts, angels, or aliens.

When these alleged entities communicate with researchers through electronic equipment, such as radios, televisions, or computers it is generally referred to as Instrumental TransCommunication (ITC). (1) One frequently examined type of ITC, Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP), is specific to voice communication through audio recording devices. EVP has been defined as "voices that appear on recording devices, for which there is no known scientific explanation." (2) When investigators capture unexplained voice-like sounds on a recorder, they claim they are capturing EVP.

In addition to EVP being a frequently investigated phenomenon, it also has a well-documented history. EVP was discovered on June 12th, 1959, at an isolated woodland cabin when artist Friedrich Jurgenson, a former opera singer, began recording birdsongs. Upon reviewing his recordings he discovered that in addition to bird calls he captured static noise that he likened to the sound of a running shower. Within that static noise he also captured mysterious voices, which were initially suspected to be intercepted from a radio broadcast. However, since these voices were discussing "bird songs at night" he felt this was remarkably coincidental. Jurgenson thought it would have been unlikely to capture such a relevant discussion at the precise moment he happened to be recording, so he speculated that an "invisible intelligence" was trying to get his attention. (3) Jurgenson continued collecting recordings of these strange voices, later hearing more personal messages that he claimed came from deceased persons. He even captured a voice he claimed was his mother's, reportedly using his childhood nickname "Friedel". (1)

The phenomenon Jurgenson had described gained notoriety when it came to the attention of a psychologist named Dr. Konstantin Raudive, who became so devoted to studying the mysterious recorded voices (i.e., EVP), that they became known as "Raudive Voices" In 1971, he published, in English, Breakthrough: An Amazing Experiment in Electronic Communication with the Dead. The volume was an account of controlled experiments Raudive conducted while attempting to capture mysterious voices similar to those Jurgenson had found. Unlike Jurgenson, who recorded the open air, Raudive conducted recordings while tuning a radio between stations to create constant, static background noise. (4) During his experiments, several safeguards were put in place, such as preventing the reception of random high and low radio frequencies, not allowing Raudive to touch the recording equipment, and only allowing him to speak into a microphone. (1) Still, he was able to demonstrate that, although not present during the recording, the mysterious voices could be heard when the recordings were replayed. (4) Interestingly, David Ellis, a Cambridge University student, attempted to find these mysterious voices with Raudive by recording in a Faraday cage (a room that blocks radio transmissions), but no voices were found. (5)

Contemporary paranormal researchers have not strayed far from the methods J/irgenson and Raudive used to record EVP. However, current researchers are able to utilize additional technologies, particularly the Internet, to conduct experiments. …