Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

A Rasch Hierarchy of Haunt and Poltergeist Experiences

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

A Rasch Hierarchy of Haunt and Poltergeist Experiences

Article excerpt


ABSTRACT: Although it has long been suspected that haunt and poltergeist phenomena form a hierarchy, compelling empirical evidence for this suggestion has been lacking. Using the data of 865 student respondents from 2 previous studies, Rasch scaling of 8 items from the Poltergeist subscale of the Anomalous Experiences Inventory (V. K. Kumar, R. J. Pekala, & C. Gallagher, 1994) revealed the existence of a well-defined probabilistic hierarchy of events. Statistical dimensionality tests validated that the 8 items indeed constitute a unidimensional continuum, and this continuum is not significantly affected by gender-related response biases. The results do not discriminate among the various parapsychological and conventional explanations for these experiences, and several theoretical perspectives on the findings are discussed.

Our research program (e.g., Lange & Houran, 1998, 1999, 2000) has actively focused on constructing a process model of haunts and poltergeists, that is, a mathematical description of what Teguis and Flynn (1983) called "the holistic patterns of interpersonal relationships, background factors, and social-psychological variables ... crucial to understanding the nature, etiology, and meaning of such occurrences" (p. 61). However, we have not examined in detail the holistic patterns among different haunt and poltergeist experiences. A few studies have investigated how qualitatively different phenomena correlate with one another (e.g., Alvarado & Zingrone, 1995; Houran, 2000; Houran & Thalbourne, 2001), but Palmer (1974; Pratt & Palmer, 1976) was the first to propose the interesting notion that phenomena might progress systematically over time. According to Guy Lyon Playfair (1980), there are approximately 19 "symptoms" of the poltergeist, beginning with raps and ending with equipment failure of cameras, tape recorders, and so forth. Individual cases may involve only half a dozen of these symptoms, but Playfair (quoted in Wilson, 1993, pp. 388-389) asserted that: You always get them in the same order. You don't get puddles of water before stone throwing, you don't get fires before raps. So that there is a predictable behavior pattern. They appear to be random to us, but they're obeying some sort of rules that they understand even if we don't.

We are unaware of any published research supporting Playfair's assertion, but Houran and Brugger (2000) similarly argued that haunts and poltergeist experiences could form a hierarchy and that determining the probability of certain anomalies should provide clues to the nature of haunts and poltergeists.

Building on this earlier work, we address the question of whether haunt and poltergeist phenomena form a hierarchy as defined by the self-reported experiences derived from the Poltergeist subscale (Kumar & Pekala, in press) of the Anomalous Experiences Inventory (AEI; Kumar, Pekala, & Gallagher, 1994). The AEI was originally constructed to measure general paranormal belief, experience, ability, drug use, and fear of the paranormal (see Gallagher, Kumar, & Pekala, 1994). However, Houran identified eight items on the AEI that parallel experiences typical of haunts and poltergeists (see Table 1), and Kumar and Pekala (in press) subsequently used these items in a study on how haunt and poltergeist experiences relate to hypnosis-specific attitudes and behaviors.

The 8-item Poltergeist subscale addresses two broad types of occurrences: (a) seemingly subjective phenomena (i.e., not normally perceived collectively), such as apparitions, and (b) more objective phenomena that involve the physical environment, such as object movements (Roll, 1977). The range of specific experiential content measured by the Poltergeist subscale is admittedly limited. For instance, Lange, Houran, Harte, and Havens (1996) identified seven specific categories of haunt and poltergeist experiences,[2] but the Poltergeist subscale covers perhaps only three of these categories (visual, sensed presence/tactile, and object movements). …

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