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Features Archive:

2011 Archive:
 Paranormal Peeps and Holiday Traditions
December 29, 2011

Littlest Mummy (A Christmas Story) By Richard Senate
December 21, 2011

Wartime UFOs with Mack Maloney
December 20, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) with Mike Markowicz
December 13, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Ghostly Lowdown on American Horror Story By Deonna Kelli Sayed
December 7, 2011

The Curse of H.H. Holmes with Jeff Mudgett
November 29, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Paranormal Roundtable with David Rountree and Paul Browning By Deonna Kelli Sayed
November 17, 2011

Legends Are Born in October By Christopher Balzano
October 17, 2011

Halloween Nation with Lesley Pratt Bannatyne
October 11, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

The Haunting of Major Graham Mansion by Deonna Kelli Sayed
October 5, 2011

The Hunt for Ohio's River Styx Ghost Train by Ken Summers
September 29, 2011

Evidence of Ancient Aliens with Peter Robbins
September 27, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Southern New England Haunts with Andrew Lake
September 20, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Pop Paranormal Culture and Middle Eastern Legends with Deonna Kelli Sayed
September 13, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Legend Tripping with AdventureMyths by Deonna Kelli Sayed
September 12, 2011

Out of Place in Time and Space with Lamont Wood
September 6, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

TAPS Academy Comes to Town by Deonna Kelli Sayed
September 1, 2011

The Amityville House with Christopher Quaratino (Lutz)
August 30, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Springfield, Missouri’s 150th by Debra Prosser
August 26, 2011

Column - regular feature

Paranormal Pastoring by Rev. Sherrie James
August 22, 2011

Live-ish From the Haunted Fearing Tavern
August 16, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

In Defense of Paranormal Reality TV by Deonna Kelli Sayed
August 8, 2011

Gone From Sight by Debra Prosser
August 3, 2011

Column - regular feature

The Psychology of Being Watched By Wayne Harris-Wyrick
August 2, 2011

The Paranormal Pastor Robin Swope
July 26, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Living Voices: Dr. Dave Oester By Deonna Kelli Sayed
July 20, 2011

Living Voices: Richard Senate By Bobby Garcia
July 13, 2011

What's in a Name? Let's Try "Paranormalogy!" By Rev. Sherrie James
July 6, 2011

Caged and Staged by Katie Mullaly
June 23, 2011

The Haunted Dibbuk Box with Jason Haxton
June 14, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Spring of Culture at Ghostvillage - Ghost Hunter's Grant Wilson
June 13, 2011

The Haunted Book by Lee Prosser
June 10, 2011

Column - regular feature

Raymond Cass - EVP Pioneer by Bobby Garcia
June 9, 2011

Illinois Haunts with Michael Kleen
June 7, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Spring of Culture at Ghostvillage - Artist Paulina Cassidy
June 2, 2011

Alien/Human Hybrids with Barbara Lamb
May 31, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Spring of Culture at Ghostvillage - Author Marley Harbuck Gibson
May 26, 2011

Biblical Apocalypse Prophecies with Dr. Robert M. Price
May 24, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

America's Strangest House by Deonna Kelli Sayed
May 23, 2011

Two-Year Anniversary Special
May 17, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Spring of Culture at Ghostvillage - Artist Jackie Williams
May 13, 2011

Wiliford by Lee Prosser
May 12, 2011

Column - regular feature

The Spirit Box with Psychic Chris Fleming
May 10, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Violating the 13th Amendment Paranormal Style by Reverend Sherrie James
May 6, 2011

Inside the Church of Satan with Joshua P. Warren
May 3, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Spring of Culture at Ghostvillage - Terri J. Garofalo, creator of Entities-R-Us
April 28, 2011

Haunted San Francisco with Loyd Auerbach
April 26, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Future Predictions with Dr. Louis Turi
April 12, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Spring of Culture at Ghostvillage - H.C. Noel, Creator of Tara Normal
April 7, 2011

Pennsylvania Bigfoot with Eric Altman
April 5, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Spontaneous Human Combustion with Larry Arnold
March 29, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Japanese Earthquake Ghosts, 2011 by Lee Prosser
March 28, 2011

Column - regular feature

UFOs with Stanton Friedman
February 8, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Ophiuchus with Astrologer Christopher Renstrom
February 1, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Crashing the Ghost Adventures Shoot
January 11, 2011

30 Odd Minutes - webcast

Marjorie Myrene Hart by Lee Prosser
January 3, 2011

Column - regular feature

August 2, 2011

The Psychology of Being Watched

By Wayne Harris-Wyrick

As a paranormal investigator, I find that I and my fellow INsight Paranormal team members spend a lot of time counseling clients about the experiences they have. Not every creak in the house is a ghost; the vast majority are thermal readjustment of the house due to temperatures between day and night. We have a building inspector on our team to help explain this. EMF spikes do NOT generally indicate a ghostly presence, unless perhaps you are investigating in Amish country with no electrical usage for miles around. And that feeling of being watched in your bedroom? Well, here's a likely natural explanation of that.

Gaze Detection and the Perceived Presence

Ever walk into a room and get that feeling that eyes are upon you? If so, do you behave differently? Are you less likely to, say, throw litter on the ground? According to Sander van der Linden, a doctor of Experimental Psychology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, you will be a better person when you feel you are being watched. [Click here for an editor's note concerning Dr. Van der Linden.]

Van der Linden performed a detailed study on what he calls gaze detection, a "dedicated neural architecture for detecting facial features, including the presence of eyes which served as an important evolutionary tool in ancestral environments e.g. for detecting lurking enemies." According to van der Linden, we are all hard-wired to detect faces and in particular eyes and reading the intent in others eyes. We had to know if they were the eyes of a friend or a stranger, perhaps even a dangerous enemy. In modern society, gaze detection manifests as a sort of social referee so that when others are watching us, it has a positive effect on our decision making: we make choices that are better for society as a whole even if it is less desirable or more troublesome for us personally. Van der Linden's research specifically studied what people would do with trash in a cafeteria when someone was and wasn't watching. Older studies, done in the 1970s showed that people who are being watched are three times more likely to properly dispose of their trash, as opposed to leaving it at the table or on the floor, when they are being watched compared to not being watched. Studies also showed that it didn't matter that someone was physically watching; a poster of people with wide open eyes on the wall had the same effect. When people perceived a pair of eyes on them, whether real eyes or photographs of them or just figures that resemble eyes, they behaved differently then when they didn't feel as if they were being watched.

Gaze Detection and Ghost Hunting

Van der Linden's studies proved that the same gaze detection behavior could be extended to images that simply looked like a pair of eyes. In his words, "it doesn't take a fellow human being to make us feel 'as if the world were watching,' not even another living organism. All it takes is an image of a pair of human eyes."

And it is not an effect that we have conscious control over. We can't overcome the behavioral change simply because we are aware of the effect. It is a hard-wired set of behaviors, providing an evolutionary advantage. "This makes sense," van der Linden states, "because there is great evolutionary value in being able to quickly assess whether any predators are on the prowl; neural activation of the gaze detection system is fast and automatic. Yet this also means that it's possible to 'trick' the system and this is exactly what the new experiment has shown: objects that merely resemble human eyes are sufficient to trigger human gaze detection and subsequently alter social behavior."

After reading of his study, I wondered how this gaze detection phenomenon might manifest itself in a situation in which a moral choice isn't an issue. Could the mere fact that we unconsciously perceive that we are being watched when no action we might do made any difference except to ourselves make us behave or believe something that we wouldn't otherwise do so? When we don't have a moral choice to make, might gaze detection cause some other psychological effect? In particular, how might it affect the perceptions of someone sitting in a room at night, especially if they already had a notion that there was paranormal activity occurring in the house? How might gaze detection affect their behavior?

I posed this question to Dr. van der Linden: Is it possible that this feeling of being watched could, in a situation where one is frightened for whatever reason, cause the person to perceive other imagined phenomena such as hearing sounds or seeing shadows out of the corner of their eyes or just a generally "creeped" out feeling, phenomena that some might assume is caused by a ghost? This was his response:
The question you posed is whether, if a "spooky" environmental cue can be identified, can (gaze detection) also induce behavioural responses other than moral and social adjustments? This is in fact a very interesting research question and I don't have a straightforward answer. I image it can. People often report to feel "uncomfortable" when they know they are being watched, even more so of course when they believe that a deceased individual (or ghost) is watching them. Also, this may very well induce feelings of anxiety and panic. Emotions that people report while "experiencing" paranormal activity are usually instinctive emotions such as "fear" and "anxiety" that, because of how the brain is wired, are very hard to control, in particular because these emotions originate in the oldest part of the brain, which is very well developed, and as a result often overtakes our ability to continue to reason "rationally." Recent research has in fact indicated that perceptual and sensory experiences (e.g. feeling a presence or picking up energy) are related to the limbic system, the older part of the brain. In fact, research points to the fact that "extrasensory experience" are particularly common in individuals that have a strong sensitivity to environmental factors. In other words, people that often experience allergies, headaches, other chronic symptoms or a heightened sensitivity to light, sound, touch and smell are particularly prone to experiencing paranormal activity. Individuals with a heightened sensitivity also tend to be female (about 2/3). So people sensitive to environmental conditions react more strongly, in reason and feeling to incoming informational cues from their environment.

Gaze Detection may become one of the causes of reported paranormal phenomena.

I believe that this could become a powerful tool in the paranormal investigator's arsenal to prove to people that they are NOT being haunted by a ghost, but that rather subtle psychological behaviours are triggered by the presence of photographs, posters or drawings on the wall or even in decorative motifs. In fact, I carry copies of various articles, like this one from Dr. van der Linden, on various natural phenomena that might be perceived by clients as paranormal in nature. So the next time a client tells you that "people always feel a presence in this room" or report sounds or "shadows out of the corner of my eye," look around. If the room has lots of photos of deceased Aunt Martha, maybe it's not her ghost, but merely her eyes that haunt the place.

What this Means for Paranormal Investigation

Gaze detection is a specific phenomenon. But under the more general concept of sensitivity to the environment, there may be even more fodder for paranormal thought. People who are more aware of their environment than most, due to, say, allergies or frequent migraine headaches or the like, are more liable to create imagined scenarios of that environment.

Experimental evidence points to the conclusion that those most sensitive to their surroundings because of potential health effects can be psychologically overwhelmed by these multiple factors generating a feeling of a paranormal experience. As van der Linden described it, "When you're more sensitive to environmental cues in general than it becomes even easier for you to imagine ghost-like scenarios and subsequently see them."

How does an investigator obtain some idea of the client's personality in this context? Try asking if the client or any family member that claims paranormal experiences if they suffer from frequent bouts of allergies, headaches or chronic pain. Do they frequently avoid certain places or environments? Positive answers to such questions would provide an indication that the client is more sensitive to environmental conditions, even if they didn't realize it, and would therefore perhaps be more inclined to "let their imagination run away with them."

A paranormal investigator would certainly want to avoid any perceptions of being prejudiced, but studies have shown that women are 2/3 more likely than men to exhibit increased sensitivity to the environment. If in a given household only females claim to have experienced paranormal activity, it may not just be a matter of skepticism on the part of males, it may be that their brains are simply not perceptive enough to have noticed subtle variations in their surroundings. Functional MRI scans reveal that whatever a person imagines will generate neuronal activity identical to seeing, hearing, feeling or otherwise actually experiencing the imagined incident. Someone who, because of heightening awareness of the environment or who feels they are being watched may sincerely believed that such experiences actually occurred. Perhaps your paranormal investigation team should include a psychologist or at least a battery of personality tests for your clients

Editor's Note: Dr. Van der Linden sent an email to the author after the publication of this article with some points he would like clarified.

The studies reported in this article were not performed by Dr. Van der Linden himself. Rather, he simply wrote about a series of research experiments that studied the gaze detection effect. Van der Lindens article in Scientific American was a summation of the work performed by others.

Van der Linden specifically refers to a study by colleagues at Newcastle University, Melissa Bateson & Daniel Nettle that looked at what people do with trash when they feel they are being watched. They found that people are 3 times more likely to throw trash away when watched.

Dr. Van der Linden clarified his comment on people who suffer from allergies, migraines and the like. He didn't intend his remark to imply that all people who suffer from such maladies imagine seeing ghosts. "When you're more sensitive to environmental cues in general than it becomes easier for your senses to be 'tricked' into experiencing ghost-like scenarios. In turn, this heightened perception also makes it easier for people to 'see' what they really 'imagine'".

Wayne Harris-Wyrick Wayne Harris-Wyrick is the director of the Kirkpatrick Planetarium of Science Museum Oklahoma. He has published 300+ non-fiction articles, science fiction short stories and a few poems.He is also a member of INsight Paranormal, and has been on dozens of ghost investigations. He has made some unique paranormal investigation equipment for the group.Wayne recently released a children's picture book called "Why Am I Me?" Wayne has two grown children plus two more he is raising with his wife and three dogs, three cats and two birds. To learn more about Wayne's various activities visit his website, or his blog.

2014 Haunted New England Wall Calendar by Jeff Belanger photography by Frank Grace
Check out the 2014 Haunted New England wall calendar by Jeff Belanger and photography by Frank Grace!

Paranormal Conferences and Lectures
Don't miss the following events and lectures:

Jeff Belanger and “The Bridgewater Triangle” at Dedham Community Theatre - April 6, 2014 9:00PM

The Spirits of the Mark Twain House - Hartford, Connecticut - April 12, 2014

Paracon Australia - East Maitland, New South Wales, Australia - May 10-12, 2014