Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Suggestion, Belief in the Paranormal, Proneness to Reality Testing Deficits, and Perception of an Allegedly Haunted building/Suggestion, Croyance Au Paranormal, Deficits Dans L'inclination a Tester la Realite et Perceptions Dans Un Immeuble Repute hante/Suggestion, Glaube Ans Paranormale, Neigung Zu Defiziten in der Realitatsuberprufung Und Wahrnehmung Eines Angeblichen Spukgebaudes

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Suggestion, Belief in the Paranormal, Proneness to Reality Testing Deficits, and Perception of an Allegedly Haunted building/Suggestion, Croyance Au Paranormal, Deficits Dans L'inclination a Tester la Realite et Perceptions Dans Un Immeuble Repute hante/Suggestion, Glaube Ans Paranormale, Neigung Zu Defiziten in der Realitatsuberprufung Und Wahrnehmung Eines Angeblichen Spukgebaudes

Article excerpt

Definitions of ghosts vary over time and across cultures (Houran & Lange, 2001). The term "ghost" refers traditionally to the notion that spirits of the dead (human and animal) persist after corporeal death and exert an influence on the physical world. More precisely, as defined by Laythe and Owen (2012), haunting experiences denote internally perceived phenomena (e.g., sensations of a presence) or externally witnessed phenomena (e.g., objects moving), ascribed to spirit activity.

Belief in and experience of ghosts persists within modem society. Indeed, opinion polls report consistently that a substantial proportion of the general population believe in the existence of ghosts (Williams, Ventola, & Wilson, 2010). Illustratively, a 2005 Gallup survey, incorporating telephone interviews with 1,002 American adults, found that 32% of interviewees believed that ghosts (spirits of dead people) could return to certain places/situations; 37% considered houses could be haunted (Moore, 2005). These figures are commensurate with an earlier 2001 Gallup survey (Newport & Strausberg, 2001). MORI polls evidence similar levels of endorsement in Britain. The 2007 Survey on Beliefs, comprising telephone interviews with a representative quota sample of 1,005 adults, noted that 38% of interviewees believed in ghosts and 36% claimed to have seen a ghost (MORI, 2007). These figures concur with the 1998 MORI Paranormal Survey, which found that 40% of respondents believed in ghosts and 37% reported personal experience of ghosts (MORI, 1998). The prevalence of ghost-related beliefs and relatively frequent reporting of haunting experiences indicates the socially important nature of haunting phenomena and designates ghosts/hauntings as an important research area worthy of academic consideration.

Empirical attempts to explain ghost and haunt-related perceptions centre frequently on psychological factors. One significant variable is suggestibility. Generally, research has found associations between suggestibility and belief in the paranormal (Dafinoiu, 1995) and that experimental manipulation of verbal suggestion can influence perception and recall of paranormal phenomena. For example, Wiseman, Greening, and Smith's (2003) study of seance phenomena, using self-selected delegates attending a Fortean Times convention, observed that participants who affirmatively answered the question "Do you believe that paranormal phenomena sometimes occur during seances?" were more susceptible to verbal suggestion about a seance-consistent phenomenon, movement of a hand-bell, than nonbelievers. Participants also reported experiencing unusual phenomena often associated with "genuine" seances; about a fifth believed the staged seance contained authentic paranormal phenomena, and a significantly greater percentage of believers considered this to be the case.

Similarly, Wiseman and Greening (2005) found that verbal suggestion affected perception of alleged paranormal key bending. Participants viewed footage of a performer (professional close-up magician) and an interviewer sitting at a table containing several objects (keys, pack of cards, cutlery, etc.). The camera showed a close-up of the performer's hands as he selected the key. They then used specious psychokinetic ability to produce a bend in the stem of the key (sleight of hand produced the distortion). The performer placed the key back on the table and the videotape footage concluded with a 60-s close-up of the distorted key. In the suggestion condition, a verbal comment on the soundtrack implied that the key continued to bend. The no-suggestion condition did not include this "bending" comment. Participants in the suggestion condition were more likely to report the key continuing to bend. In addition, participants reporting bending were highly confident that their testimony was reliable and were less likely to report the fake psychic's suggestion.

Wilson and French (2008) examined whether suggestion influenced recall of a psychic reading. …

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