When it comes to the phenomenon of purportedly hearing ghost voices, some studies have shown there’s a small chance there’s really something supernatural to it. Some other studies, however, have shown it’s most likely people subjectively hearing what they want or expect to hear in random noise.
Some of the most stunning cases are hard to replicate in a lab, leaving the mystery open to speculation.
It’s All in Your Head?
A 2014 study conducted by Michael Nees, assistant professor of psychology at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, suggests hearing ghost voices is simply a case of people perceiving patterns that aren’t there.
The term Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) describes disincarnate voices allegedly picked up by electronic devices. For example, many investigators of the paranormal bring machines that produce white noise to “haunted” sites to see if ghost voices will emerge from the white noise.
It’s the audio version of an inkblot test, Nees said. Different people hear different things, and it’s not that fixed words are objectively present. He thinks people wrongly perceive patterns in random noise.
Half of the participants in his study were told openly the study was about EVP. The other half were told the study was about speech perception in noisy environments.
He used samples of purported EVP from a ghost-hunting reality TV show. As controls, he also used samples of actual human speech (some clear, some obscured by noise), and recordings of only noise.
Being told that it was an EVP experiment led participants to hear the voices more often in both the EVP samples and the control samples that contained actual human speech.
When participants heard a voice in the EVP samples, they could only agree on what it said 13 percent of the time, compared to 95 percent of the time with actual human speech.
Nees wrote: “In one final analysis, we showed that the participants’ interpretations agreed with the paranormal researchers’ interpretations less than 1 percent of the time. These findings suggest that paranormal researchers should not use their own subjective judgments to confirm the contents of EVP.”
After reviewing the study, Director of the Office of Paranormal Investigations Loyd Auerbach told Epoch Times via email: “Folks in my field have had similar concerns about what amounts to audio inkblots that make up so many EVPs, especially listening for voices in white noise.”
He mentioned a 2011 study by his colleagues Mark Boccuzzi and Julie Beischel at the Windbridge Institute.
They tested a type of EVP machine that uses short speech elements to generate a “robotic-like random voice.” The operator asks questions and purportedly receives appropriate full-word responses from the random mix of speech elements.
Among other methods of analyzing the “responses,” Boccuzzi and Beischel used speech recognition software to provide a bias-free judgment.
The responses perceived by the operator were not confirmed by the speech recognition software. “These data suggest that the interpretation of EVPMaker conversations is a subjective process, the content of which is meaningful primarily (and perhaps solely) to the operator,” they wrote.
There are on occasion very clear unexplained recordings that can be identified as human voices (even through digital analysis) …
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