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Research suggests a “Haunted People Syndrome (HP-S)” defined by recurrent and systematic perceptions of anomalous subjective and objective anomalies. Such signs or symptoms are traditionally attributed to “spirits and the supernatural,” but these themes are hypothesised to morph to “surveillance and stalking” in reports of “group-(or gang) stalking,” We tested this premise with a quali-quantitative exercise that mapped group-stalking experiences from a published first-hand account to a Rasch measure of haunt-type anomalies. This comparison found significant agreement in the specific “signs or symptoms” of both phenomena. Meta-patterns likewise showed clear conceptual similarities between the phenomenology of haunts and group-stalking. Findings are consistent with the idea that both anomalous episodes involve the same, or similar, attentional or perceptual processes and thereby support the viability of the HP-S construct.
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Mental Health, Religion & Culture
ISSN: 1367-4676 (Print) 1469-9737 (Online) Journal homepage:
The Dr. John Hall story: a case study in putative
“Haunted People Syndrome”
Ciaran O'Keeffe, James Houran, Damien J. Houran, Neil Dagnall, Kenneth
Drinkwater, Lorraine Sheridan & Brian Laythe
To cite this article: Ciaran O'Keeffe, James Houran, Damien J. Houran, Neil Dagnall,
Kenneth Drinkwater, Lorraine Sheridan & Brian Laythe (2019): The Dr. John Hall story: a
case study in putative “Haunted People Syndrome”, Mental Health, Religion & Culture, DOI:
To link to this article:
Published online: 17 Dec 2019.
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The Dr. John Hall story: a case study in putative Haunted
People Syndrome
Ciaran OKeee
, James Houran
, Damien J. Houran
, Neil Dagnall
Kenneth Drinkwater
, Lorraine Sheridan
and Brian Laythe
Department of Psychology, Buckinghamshire New University, London, UK;
Instituto Politecnico de Gestao e
Tecnologia Escola Superior de Gestao, Portugal;
Integrated Knowledge Systems (IKS), Dallas, TX, USA;
Department of Psychology, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK;
School of Psychology,
Curtin University, Perth, Australia;
Institute for the Study of Religious and Anomalous Experience,
Jeersonville, IN, USA
Research suggests a Haunted People Syndrome (HP-S)dened by
recurrent and systematic perceptions of anomalous subjective and
objective anomalies. Such signs or symptoms are traditionally
attributed to spirits and the supernatural,but these themes are
hypothesised to morph to surveillance and stalkingin reports of
group-(or gang) stalking,We tested this premise with a quali-
quantitative exercise that mapped group-stalking experiences
from a published rst-hand account to a Rasch measure of haunt-
type anomalies. This comparison found signicant agreement in
the specicsigns or symptomsof both phenomena. Meta-
patterns likewise showed clear conceptual similarities between
the phenomenology of haunts and group-stalking. Findings are
consistent with the idea that both anomalous episodes involve
the same, or similar, attentional or perceptual processes and
thereby support the viability of the HP-S construct.
Received 28 June 2019
Accepted 23 September 2019
Content analysis; delusions;
encounter experiences;
ghosts; group-stalking;
Within the literature on anomalous experiences is a sub-set of intriguing reports about
haunted people(for reviews, see e.g., Houran & Lange, 2001;OKeee & Parsons,
2010). This terminology is deceptively simple, because the questions of Who is haunted
and also How and Why?are bigger and thornier than might be assumed. Whatever the
ultimate answers, these enigmatic occurrences span dierent cultures and historic eras
(Maher, 2015; Roll, 1977) and seemingly represent an enduring facet of human experience.
Moreover, they are clinically relevant in their capacity to foster intense sensations, percep-
tions, or reactions that can disrupt the daily functioning of aicted individuals and those
within their social milieus (Hastings, 1983; Montanelli & Parra, 2002-2005; Rogo, 1982).
For example, the Doris Bither case was an alleged paranormal hauntingthat occurred
in Culver City, California in the 1970s (Ta,2014). Doris Bither, a mother of one daughter
and three sons, claimed that she was repeatedly monitored, harassed, attacked, and even
raped by invisible entities she believed were the ghosts of three men. In addition to Doris
© 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Ciaran OKeee
assault claims, all four children reported seeing apparitions with the most prominent being
nicknamed Mr. Whose-it.Moreover, Dorismiddle son later stated in a media interview as
an adult that all his siblings also experienced some form of attack, such as pushing, pulling,
biting, and scratching (Ortega, 2009). This disturbing episode inspired De Felittas(1978)
book The Entity, which was made into a 1982 lm of the same name.
UCLA-based psychologists investigated the events at the time and identied numerous
clinical factors likely at play, despite apparently no ndings of outright psychopathology.
Doris reportedly had a history of physical and substance abuse, endured multiple abusive
relationships, and suered a traumatic childhood. The familys circumstances also
appeared stressful and dysfunctional from the perspective of systems (ecosystem or biop-
sychosocial) theory,i.e., environment-person bidirectional inuences (Mash, 1989).
Indeed, the investigators observed poor relationships between Doris and her children,
there was ghting among the siblings, and their house was in poor physical condition
and even said to have been condemned twice, although the middle son later disputed
this assertion in an interview with Ortega (2009). The son further claimed in this same
interview that he and his siblings were psychic, noting that in dierent environments
throughout their lives they had occasionally seen shadows and spirits”–although it
was only at their Culver City residence that such anomalies became negative and physical
for them. The frequency and intensity of the mysterious attacks apparently decreased over
time, and Doris died in the late 1990s of natural causes.
While the Doris Bither case was extreme and sensational, its phenomenology under-
scores why the relation between paranormal ideations and psychological wellness or
symptom perception is an important and burgeoning area of study (e.g., Dein, 2012;
Mathijsen, 2016; Rabeyron & Loose, 2015; Sar, Alioğlu, & Akyüz, 2014; Sharps et al.,
2010; Simmonds-Moore, 2012). We even argue that research increasingly suggests the
possibility of a Haunted People Syndrome (HP-S)
a moniker proposed here that was
inspired by the title of an early parapsychological book by Carrington and Fodor (1951).
The term syndromerefers to a set of signs and symptoms that occur together to charac-
terise an abnormality or condition (British Medical Association, 2018), therefore the
concept of HP-S most obviously encompasses percipients within the general population
who invoke labels of ghosts or other supernatural agencies to explain a specic set of
anomalous events that often are perceived recurrently.
Investigators often designate these anomalies as either Subjective (S, internal or psycho-
logical) or Objective (O, external or physical). Subjective includes sensed presences, hearing
voices, unusual somatic or emotional manifestations, and perceptions of human forms.
Objective comprises apparent object movements, malfunctioning of electrical or mechan-
ical equipment, and inexplicable percussive sounds like raps or knockings (for reviews of
these S/O anomalies see e.g., Dagnall, Drinkwater, Denovan, & Parker, 2015; Drinkwater,
Dagnall, Denovan, & Parker, 2019; Houran, 2000). We should also emphasize that paranor-
mal attributions by witnesses to these signs or symptomsare not surprising given the
prevalence of ghostsas both beliefs and memetic cultural narratives (Bader, 2017;
Booker, 2009; Goldstein, Grider, & Thomas, 2007; Hill et al., 2018,2019).
However, context eects can produce dierent interpretations or attributions for nearly
identical S/O anomalies. To be sure, reports of apparitions and poltergeists resemble, and
might equate to, accounts of other entity encounter experiences,such as angels,
demons, extraterrestrials, Men in Black (MIBs), shamanic spirit guides, and folklore-type
beings (Evans, 1987,2001; Houran, 2000;Huord, 1982,2001). Such studies imply the
existence of an underlying experience or phenomenon that changes its appearance in
accordance with the situation or sociocultural context in which it manifests. For instance,
Musgrave and Houran (2000) outlined similar structures and contents between Medieval-
era experiences, known as the ight to the WitchesSabbat, and modern-era accounts of
UFO abductions.
Likewise, Lange and Houran (2001a) have further contended that the phenomenology
of ghostly episodes strongly parallels cases of mass psychogenic illness whereby individ-
uals suer from mysterious contaminants, pathogens, or even man-made stimuli (Balarat-
nasingama & Janca, 2006; Chen, Yen, Lin, & Yang, 2003; Colligan, Pennebaker, & Murphy,
1982; Wessely, 1987,2000).
To illustrate, both outbreaks comprise ambiguous stimulants
that trigger a sudden onset and cessation of often dramatic symptoms (psychological or
physical), many times in young females, and during times of psychosocial stress (Boss,
1997; Lange & Houran, 2001a). Other times, similar experiences induced by suggestion
have been misattributed to mainstream technologies (e.g., OMahony, 1978; Radford &
Bartholomew, 2001). Finally, both haunts and psychogenic illness involve psychological
contagion, or the instigation of successive (episodic) experiences in individuals or
groups due to expectancy eects (Houran & Lange, 1996a,1996b; Lange & Houran,
2001a,2001b; Laythe, Laythe, & Woodward, 2017;OKeee & Parsons, 2010).
Haunt and poltergeist accounts might therefore represent merely one portrayal of an
adaptable corephenomenon that we denote as HP-S. We further presume this core
experience is produced via the right people in the right settings(Laythe, Houran, &
Ventola, 2018, p. 210). Specically, Rasch (1960,1980) scaling studies suggest there is a
probabilistic hierarchy of 32 baseanomalous events (Houran et al., 2019a,2019b).
These manifest typically in psychosocial or physical environments linked to physiological
arousal (Houran, Kumar, Thalbourne, & Lavertue, 2002; Jawer, 2006). Moreover, individuals
higher in transliminality (thin mental boundaries) tend to report these experiences to a
greater extent (Laythe et al., 2018), which implies a heightened susceptibility to high-
arousal or dis-easestates (Evans, Lange, Houran, & Lynn, 2018; Ventola et al., 2019).
Group-Stalking - A Haunt by another name?
We suspect that the concept of HP-S might help to explain contemporary accounts of
reputed group (or gang)-stalking”—or what Hall (2014) described as organized stalking
(p. 47). Seminal research by Sheridan and James (2015) suggested that this phenomenon
diers from stalking cases involving lone-culprits and is arguably delusional in nature.
Here, victims state that they are being targeted by coordinated groups of people.
Paullet, Rota, and Swan (2009)dened it more formally as stalking that involves the
use of multiple individuals to stalk, harass or threaten the victim(p. 640). Additionally,
the stalking being the apparent work of a social system acting in concert, it is usually
not possible for alleged victims to identify the lead person responsible for directing or
implementing the activities. Likewise, the victim is generally unable to provide any evi-
dence as to who is behind the stalking, although the person may attribute it to a
specic source like an ex-partner or covert government agency.
Based on his interviews with many alleged targeted individuals (or T.I.s),Hall (2014,
p. 69) proposed six phases to the group-stalking phenomenon: selection,surveillance,
stalking,defamation,attack, and monitoring. This is reminiscent of certain patterns noted
in parapsychological studies. First, T.I.s mirror the concept of focus personsin haunt-
poltergeist outbreaks, that is, living individuals around whom the anomalies tend to
centre (see e.g., Roll, 1977; Laythe et al., 2018). Next, experiences in haunt-poltergeist
accounts often appear episodic. Like some illnesses, Nisbet (1979) proposed that polter-
geist-like episodes have an incubation period before anomalies manifest. The S/O events
then apparently progress in stages over time (for a discussion, see e.g., Houran et al.,
Table 1 shows that Sheridan and James(2015) signs or symptoms of group-stalking can
be categorised as S/O events. Furthermore, Table 2 arms that the themes in these events
resemble, at least supercially, those reported in accounts of ghostly episodes (cf. Houran
et al., 2019a; Houran & Lange, 2001). However, T.I.s, interpret these core symptoms as
clearly non-paranormal. More precisely, the traditional religio-cultural constructs of
spirits, spooks, and the supernaturalostensibly morph to the modern techno-concepts
of satellites, surveillance, and stalking.For example, consider a detailed description
from an online poster who addressed the question, How do you know if youre being
In my case it all stopped just as suddenly and unexplainable as it had all started. The rst
symptoms I noticed Things would be moved, there was evidence of breaking and entering.
This progressed to my place of employment Then I was assaulted in my sleep.Myfood
and/or drink was most likely poisoned while I was gone from my house.
There were individuals following me, and an over saturation of law enforcement near my
home and job There were strange phone calls at all hours and inappropriate times. There
were street theatreincidents and coincidences that were just not mathematically possible.
Table 1. Symptoms of group-stalking (Sheridan & James, 2015:Table 1, pp. 910) categorized by
subjective (psychological) vs. objective (physical) experiences.
Covert Behaviours (aligns to Subjective Experiences)
.Secretly photographed
.Spied On
.Lies spread about victim
Unwanted Communications (aligns to Objective Events)
.Unsolicited emails
.Unsolicited letters
.Unsolicited telephone calls
.Unsolicited text messages
.Left unwanted items
Direct Interference with Homes/Property (aligns to Objective Events)
.Physically assaulted
.Victims pet abused
.Home broken into
.Home vandalised
.Car vandalised
.Other property vandalised
.Other stalking method(s)
*Not cited but reported in some cases:
.Street theater(objective events)
.Gaslighting(subjective experiences)
Table 2. Common group-stalking symptoms and Halls(2009) specic experiences mapped to the hierarchical Survey of Strange Events (SSE).
Rasch Hierarchy of Haunt-type Experiences (descending order -
common to rare events: Houran et al., 2019b)
Group (or gang)-Stalking Signs/
Symptoms(Sheridan & James,
2015) Halls(2009) Group-Stalking Experiences
# of Reported
Events in Hall
I had a sense of déjà vu, like something was vaguely familiar to me
about my thoughts, feelings, or surroundings.
Ch. 22 (p. 94) 1
I had the mysterious feeling of being watched, or in the presence of an
invisible being or force.
.Secretly photographed
.Spied On
Ch. 4 (p. 20), Ch. 8 (p. 35), Ch. 16 (p. 68) 3
I heard mysterious mechanicalor non-descript noises, such as
tapping, knocking, rattling, banging, crashing, footsteps or the
sound of opening/closing doors or drawers.
Ch. 8 (p. 35, 37), Ch. 11 (p. 48), Ch. 14 (p. 59), Ch. 18 (p. 76), Ch. 20
(p. 87), Ch. 22 (p. 94)
I felt a mysterious area of cold.
I felt a breeze or a rush of wind or air, like something invisible was
moving near me.
I saw with my naked eye a non-descript visual image, like fog, shadow
or unusual light.
I heard mysterious sounds that could be recognized or identied, such
as ghostly voices or music (with or without singing).
.Lies spread about victim Ch. 3 (p. 14, 16, 17), Ch. 10 (p.42, 43, 44), Ch.11 (p.46), Ch. 13
(p. 55), Ch. 15 (p.64), Ch. 16 (p. 69), Ch. 18 (p. 76), Ch. 20 (p. 85),
Ch. 22 (p. 96), Ch. 23 (p. 101), Ch. 24 (p. 104, 105)
Electrical or mechanical appliances or equipment functioned
improperly or not at all, including ickering lights, power surges or
batteries going deadin electronic devices (e.g., camera, phone,
.Unsolicited telephone calls
.Unsolicited text messages
.Unsolicited emails
Ch. 5 (p. 23, 24), Ch. 8 (p.35), Ch. 21 (p. 89, 90), Ch. 23 (p. 100, 102),
Ch. 24 (p. 105)
I had a negative feeling for no obvious reason, like anger, sadness,
panic, or danger.
Ch. 6 (p. 28), Ch. 9 (p. 40), Ch. 24 (p. 104) 3
I was mysteriously touched in a non-threatening manner, like a tap,
touch or light pressure on my body.
I saw with my naked eye an obviousghost or apparition a misty or
translucent image with a human form.
I saw with my naked eye an un-obviousghost or apparition a
human form that looked like a living person.
.Secretly photographed
.Spied On
Ch. 3 (p. 36), Ch. 9 (p. 40), Ch. 10 (p. 42), Ch. 11 (p.47, 48, 49), Ch.
12 (p. 53), Ch. 14 (p. 60), Ch. 17 (p. 73), Ch. 18 (p. 76, 77, 78, 79),
Ch.20 (p. 86, 87), Ch. 21 (p. 92), Ch. 22 (p. 94, 96)
I felt odd sensations in my body, such as dizziness, tingling, electrical
shock, or nausea (sick in my stomach).
Ch. 5 (p. 24, 25), Ch. 10 (p. 45), Ch. 12 (p. 52, 53), Ch. 13 (p. 58), Ch.
16 (p. 69), Ch. 17 (p. 73), CH. 18 (p. 79), Ch. 20 (p. 80)
I experienced objects disappear or reappear around me. .Left unwanted items Ch. 20 (p. 87), Ch. 23 (p. 100, 102) 3
Table 2. Continued.
Rasch Hierarchy of Haunt-type Experiences (descending order -
common to rare events: Houran et al., 2019b)
Group (or gang)-Stalking Signs/
Symptoms(Sheridan & James,
2015) Halls(2009) Group-Stalking Experiences
# of Reported
Events in Hall
.Unsolicited letters
Pictures from my camera or mobile device captured unusual images,
shapes, distortions or eects.
Ch. 21 (p. 90) 1
I smelled a mysterious odor that was pleasant.
I communicated with the dead or other outside force. Ch. 4 (p. 19), Ch. 10 (p. 43, 45) 3
I saw objects moving on their own across a surface or falling.
I had a positive feeling for no obvious reason, like happiness, love, joy,
or peace.
I heard on an audio recorder mysterious mechanicalor non-descript
noises, such as tapping, knocking, rattling, banging, crashing,
footsteps or the sound of opening/closing doors or drawers.
Ch. 13 (p. 56, 57) 2
I heard on an audio recorder mysterious sounds that could be
recognized or identied, such as ghostly voices or music (with or
without singing).
Ch. 11 (p. 49), Ch. 13 (p. 56, 57), Ch. 14 (p. 59, 60), Ch. 17 (p. 74),
CH. 20 (p. 85, 87), Ch.22 (p. 95)
I smelled a mysterious odor that was unpleasant. Ch. 17 (p.73), Ch. 23 (p.101) 2
I was mysteriously touched in a threatening manner, such as a cut,
bite, scratch, shove, burn or strong pressure on my body.
.Physically assaulted
.Victims pet abused
Ch. 12 (p. 54), Ch. 15 (p. 63), Ch 16. (p. 69), Ch. 18 (p. 78, 79), Ch.
24 (p. 104, 105), Ch. 25 (p. 112)
I saw objects breaking (or discovered them broken), like shattered or
cracked glass, mirrors or housewares.
.Home broken into
.Home vandalised
.Car vandalised
Ch. 2 (p. 13), Ch. 6 (p. 28), Ch. 8 (p. 35), Ch. 9 (p. 40), Ch. 10 (p. 42,
44, 45), Ch. 12 (p. 52), Ch. 14 (p. 59), Ch. 17 (p. 73), Ch. 19 (p.81),
Ch. 20 (p. 87), Ch. 23 (p. 100, 102), Ch. 24 (p. 104)
I saw objects ying or oating in midair.
I felt a mysterious area of heat. Ch. 5 (p. 24), Ch. 16 (p. 69), Ch. 23 (p. 101), Ch. 24 (p. 104) 4
I felt guided, controlled or possessed by an outside force. Ch. 9 (p. 41), Ch. 10 (p. 42, 45), Ch. 11 (p. 49, 50), Ch. 12 (p. 52), Ch.
13 (p. 58), Ch. 18 (p. 79)
Plumbing equipment or systems (faucets, disposal, toilet) functioned
improperly or not at all.
I saw beings of divine or evil origin, such as angels or demons.
I had a mysterious taste in my mouth.
I saw folklore-type beings that were not human, such as elves, fairies,
or other types of little people.
Fires have started mysteriously.
There were encounters with people in public that I would see dressed dierently or under a
dierent guise at various places
There was the constant knowledge that I was being watched. There was a constant echo or static
only found in wiretapping on all my phone calls. There were random people that would show up
at my job and just hand me a piece of paper with nothing on it, and quickly leave. I saw the same
sets of people on websites or random online pages.
My computer was obviously and carelessly hacked There was a constant parade of clear
human shadows on my bedroom walls at night the more you try to explain this phenomena
(sic) to friends and family, the more they withdraw from believing that anything at all is hap-
pening to you. Then I woke up one day after approximately 5 years of constant terror and being
victimized, and poof! It stopped (emphasis in original).
The Dr. John hall story
There is an active and worldwide sub-culture of people devoted to public awareness of
reputed group-stalking, similar to the prevalent groups of paranormal enthusiasts and
ghost-hunters(Hill, 2017). Google the phrase victims of group-stalkingand over
nine-million entries emerge. Many lay-organizations and individual activists within this
vast community identify John Hall, a Texas-based anesthesiologist, as among its most
credible and authoritative gures (McPhate, 2016).
Notwithstanding legitimate controversies about some covert surveillance programmes
as famously discussed by Edward Snowden (e.g., Burrough, Ellison, & Andrews, 2014), or
the exploitations of personal-data mining by technology companies (e.g., Zubo,2019),
satellite-stalking and related claims might sound like science ction to many people.
Yet, Hall (2009,2011) ardently believes that it is the future of criminal assault due to his
rst-hand experiences and ongoing research, as documented in two books to date. An
o-handed comment to Hall by an academic colleague who claimed to have an important
connection with an ex-FBI agent (ironically known as The Ghost) was the apparent cat-
alyst to mysterious events and intrusions that next unfolded in Halls life. This onslaught
started with what Hall deemed to be regular druggings,as well as break-ins to his
house and those of people close to him.
The chronology of Halls(2009) personal experiences lacks ample detail for robust time-
series analyses on potential psychological contagioneects (cf. Lange & Houran, 2001a,
2001b), but his published narrative is amenable to a content analysis. In this respect, we
explore two hypotheses: (i) the discrete experiences or events in Halls stalking narrative
will reliably and substantively correspond to the base experiences that dene witness nar-
ratives in ghostly episodes, and (ii) the overarching phenomenology of Halls set of experi-
ences will most align to the meta-patterns exhibited by spontaneous (sincere and
unprimed) accounts of ghostly episodes, as opposed to control accounts that derive
from fantasy, deliberate deceit, or types of priming conditions.
Spontaneous case data
Data derived from Halls(2009) 127-page, commercial book, which the publisher described
on its back cover as Dr. Halls narration based on true-life events.It is uncertain to what
extent this text represents Halls own words or those of a copyeditor. Also, we made no
attempt to corroborate any of his claims. Instead, our analysis focussed only on identifying
the presence and pattern of themes within his broad narrative. Thus, this source data is
similar to previous content analyses of paranormal accounts (e.g., Harte, 2000; Houran, 2000).
The Survey of Strange Events (SSE; Houran et al., 2019b) is a 32-item, true/falseRasch
(1960/1980) scaled measure of the overall intensity of a ghostly account or narrative
via a weighted checklist of base events (psychological and physical) inherent to these epi-
sodes. We refer readers to our previous papers for details on the development of this
instrument (Houran et al., 2019a,2019b). Rasch scores range from 22.3 (= raw score of
0) to 90.9 (= raw score of 32) (M= 50, SD = 10), with a Rasch person reliability of .87.
Higher scores correspond to a greater number and intensity of anomalies that dene a
percipients experience. Furthermore, supporting the SSEs content and predictive val-
idities, Houran et al. (2019b) found that the phenomenology of spontaneousaccounts
(i.e., sincere and unprimed) diered signicantly from controlnarratives derived from
primed conditions, fantasy scenarios, or deliberate fabrication.
Content Category Dictionary (CCD)
CCD is used to retest existing categories, concepts, or models in new contexts (Catanzaro,
1988). We designed and implemented a two-tier, deductive protocol using a categoris-
ation matrix based on the SSE measure described above (cf. Column 1: Table 2). An
experimentally-blind rater reviewed Halls(2009) self-reported group-stalking experiences
and coded their alignment with the SSE categories. To decrease bias and increase
reliability, we presented Halls(2009) experiences anonymously (i.e., without context).
The rater examined the transcripts and recorded the items from the categorisation
matrix based on whether they were present or not. To optimise the accuracy of the
nal codings, another independent rater with expertise in anomalistic psychology sub-
sequently cross-checked the classications against the source material.
Hypothesis 1
Table 2 shows that the raters who studied Halls(2009) account as a T.I.reliably identied
18 out of the 32 base anomalies characteristic of haunt narratives, i.e., a 56% correspon-
dence in themes. This tally converts to an above-average Rasch scaled score of 58.5 (SE =
2.6) on the SSE, which agrees with the idea that group-stalking experiences signicantly
overlap with specic anomalies in accounts of ghostly encounters.
Hypothesis 2
Halls(2009) group-stalking incidents skewed towards Objective (physical) events (n=73
discrete events with ten themes) compared to Subjective (psychological) experiences (n
= 48 discrete events with eight themes). Thus, Halls narrative appears to be composed pri-
marily of tangible (60%) versus private (40%) information. Our next step was to scrutinise
the meta-patterns in the 18 themes that manifested across the 121 discrete experiences.
Yet a confound arises with qualitative data from commercial books or other modied
sources. Particularly, the veracity or completeness of details are unknown with copyedited
text, as opposed to witness interview transcripts or adavits.
One solution is to consider only the obvious and important dominant themes in an
account rather than include minor (or incidental) themes that could be unreliable for
several reasons. Taking this approach rst, we inspected Halls dominant themes as
dened by those SSE items with an above average (> 7) number of associated experiences
(Column 4: Table 2). This vetting pinpointed eight dominant themes within Halls(2009)
account (cf. Table 3).
Table 3 compares meta-patterns in Halls themes to those in Houran et al.s(2019b) Rasch
(1960/1980) models of haunt accounts. Our goal was to assess whether the phenomenology
of Halls(2009) dominant themes closely matched one of the ve types of haunt narratives
(i.e., spontaneous, primed, lifestyle, fantasy, or illicit). Specically, it might be expected that
Halls(2009) themes with higher frequencies of experiences (Column 2) should correspond
to haunt-type anomalies with lower logit-values (Column 3) (i.e., easierendorsement, or
relatively more common experiences). Likewise, anomalies with higher logit-values for
haunt experiences (i.e., harderendorsement, or relatively rarer experiences) should corre-
late to themes in Hall (2009) with comparatively lower frequencies. To reiterate, lower cor-
relations in this exercise indicate greater levels of overall compatibility between the
phenomenology of Halls experiences and specic haunt narratives.
To clarify, a logit is the unit of measurement in Rasch scaling that indicates the point
along an interval-level continuum where a given item (or theme) is positioned, and thus
the likelihood of being endorsed, relative to other items (or themes) along the common
dimension. Note that Houran et al. (2019b) found that logit-values for some items (experi-
ences) shift in haunt accounts from dierent contexts, i.e., specic experiences were under-
or over-reported in narratives derived from spontaneous, primed, lifestyle, fantasy, or
illicitconditions. Thus, these narrative-specic hierarchies potentially have diagnostic
Table 3 suggests that the dominant phenomenology of Halls(2009) group-stalking
experiences most closely approximates spontaneous ghostly episodes (r=.37), with
the next closest parallel being fantasy haunt narratives (r= .17). Nevertheless, this
interpretation alters when Halls(2009)collective phenomenology is considered, i.e.,
minor themes are also included in the calculations. In this scenario, the Pearson product
moment coecients (r) between the frequencies of Halls specic experiences and their
respective logit values from Houran et al. (2019b) change as follows: spontaneous = .12,
primed =.36,lifestyle = .21, fantasy =.15, and illicit =.12. The collective phenomenology
seems most aligned to the fantasycondition, although it also has characteristics consist-
ent with illicitnarratives.
It is dicult to resolve these patterns and nuances decisively based on the available
data. None of the ve narrative structures clearly or consistently emerges as the preferred
match, which might suggest that Halls(2009) account is an amalgam of narrative types.
For example, we could speculate that Hall experienced some anomalous and legitimately
spontaneous events that subsequently encouraged the development of fantasy elements,
with some or all their accompanying details perhaps embellished (unwittingly or deliber-
ately) later by him, a copyeditor, or other source. Taken altogether, we essentially
conrmed Hypothesis 1. On the other hand, ndings only partially supported the predic-
tion that Halls(2009) experiences would align to the meta-patterns of spontaneous
ghostly episodes (Hypothesis 2).
This was a preliminary and limited exploration of the hypothesis that group-stalking
accounts involve the same, or similar, attentional or perceptual processes inherent to
Table 3. Dominant themes in Hall (2009) compared to phenomenologies of various haunt-related
narratives from Houran et al. (2019b).
Halls(2009) Haunt-Type
experiences N
narratives (logit)
I felt guided, controlled or
possessed by an outside
8 .84 .16 .21 .22 .08
I was mysteriously touched in a
threatening manner, such as
a cut, bite, scratch, shove,
burn or strong pressure on
my body.
8 .44 .29 .29 .08 1.56
Electrical or mechanical
appliances or equipment
functioned improperly or not
at all, including ickering
lights, power surges or
batteries going deadin
electronic devices (e.g.,
camera, phone, etc.).
8.62 .04 .46 .58 20
I heard on an audio recorder
mysterious sounds that could
be recognized or identied,
such as ghostly voices or
music (with or without
9 .24 .60 1.79 1.07 1.52
I felt odd sensations in my
body, such as dizziness,
tingling, electrical shock, or
nausea (sick in my stomach).
10 .47 .16 .11 .66 1.02
I saw objects breaking (or
discovered them broken),
like shattered or cracked
glass, mirrors or housewares.
15 .51 .63 1.08 .91 1.61
I heard mysterious sounds that
could be recognized or
identied, such as ghostly
voices or music (with or
without singing).
16 .62 .15 .20 .50 .26
I saw with my naked eye an
un-obviousghost or
apparition a human form
that looked like a living
18 .47 .41 1.04 .87 .09
r.37 .69 .67 .17 .37
Note: Lower logit values = more common/ easierto endorse; higher logit values = less common/ harderto endorse
reports of haunts or poltergeist-like disturbances. By extension, this includes the assump-
tion that group-stalking is another personication or interpretation of the encounter
experience(cf. Evans, 2001; Houran, 2000;Huord, 2001). Although our analysis cannot
conclusively establish whether ghostly episodes and group-stalking are dierent
expressions of a core experience or phenomenon, our results appear reasonably consist-
ent with this premise. Our conclusion fundamentally equates Halls(2009)group-stalking
account to Doris Bithersparanormal persecutionnarrative.
Three added conceptual similarities bolster the hypothesis of a core HP-S phenomenon
in the present context. Firstly, persecutory thoughts, feelings, and physical violations that
dene group-stalking accounts exist in many ghost narratives other than the Doris Bither
case. For example, subtle or passive forms arguably include reports of sensed presences,
or an inexplicable sensation of being in the company of an invisible force that is akin to
feeling under surveillance.This anomaly bridges many encounter experiences (e.g.,
Houran, 2000;Huord, 2001), and other times narratives also can refer to the sudden or
mysterious onset of unsettling feelings (Harte, 2000; Houran, 2002).
More overt or threatening forms of paranormal persecutionappear as nighttime Old
Hag attackswhich likely represent episodes of sleep paralysis (Huord, 2001). According
to Powell (1997), the term nightmare described this phenomenon before it acquired its
modern, generalised meaning. Powell (1997) described it specically as a phenomenon
during which a person senses the presence of a malevolent agent, is unable to move, is
consciously aware of the surroundings, experiences a sense of fear or dread, and often
feels a pressing or strangling sensation. In addition to these core elements, auditory
and visual hallucinations and respiratory diculty are common(p. 588). Although
much rarer, some haunt-poltergeist accounts have also referenced bodily eects during
waking states that mimic aspects of the Doris Bither case. These materializations
include anomalous bites, cuts, scratches, welts, and perceived possession by outside
forces (e.g., Amorim, 1990; Mulacz, 1999).
Beyond the threatening nature of some S/O anomalies on a tangible level, we imagine
that themes of fear, dread, threat, or persecution in haunt or poltergeist narratives relate,
in part, to proxemics and specically the sense of intrusion into ones personal space that
these anomalies might stimulate. By way of explanation, social scientists recognise four
levels of psychological space, i.e., intimate, personal, social, and public. Personal space is
the region surrounding individuals that they regard as their psychological territory and
physical domain. Most people value their personal space and feel discomfort, anger, or
anxiety when this space is encroached (Hall, 1966). Broadly speaking, we hypothesise
that the more proximal S/O anomalies are to ones personal space, the more intense or
prevalent the corresponding perceptions of threat or persecution.
This assumes there is no prevailing context that otherwise normalises these anomalous
experiences for individuals. Without this, we suspect that the proximity of anomalous
events, combined with their inherent ambiguity (Lange & Houran, 2001a) and aberrant sal-
ience to percipients (Irwin, 2014; Irwin, Schoeld, & Baker, 2014), collectively induce a type
of functional paranoia. This cognitiveaective state might be characterised as experients
striving to resolve a personal conundrum grounded in Trickster-Theory, Who did what to
whom and if so, why (if at all)?(Brantley, 2009, p. 1). This speculation agrees with Banerjee
and Bloom (2014) who found that religious and paranormal belief signicantly predicts the
propensity to perceive the world in terms of agency purpose, and design.
Secondly, group-stalking accounts often reference gaslighting(Hall, 2009,2014),
which typically denotes the determined eorts of an inuencer to cause an intended
target to doubt his/her own experiences, or even sanity (Knight, 2006; Thomas, 2017).
Sheridan and James (2015, Table 4, pp. 1517) found related eects in the reported reac-
tions of people close to the T.I.s they surveyed. For instance, T.I.s often endorsed state-
ments such as Others said they were overreacting/being paranoid (74.0%),Family/
friends did not take me seriously(60.2%), and The police did not take me seriously
(40.6%). They also found that 51.2% of the group-stalking claimants Thought they were
going mad(p. 12). Similarly, paranormal witnessesare often aware that their anomalous
experiences are unconventional and therefore they sometimes rationalise them with
orthodox beliefs when discussing them publicly or when faced with skepticism (Drink-
water, Dagnall, & Bate, 2013; Ohashi, Woott, Jackson, & Nixon, 2013; Schmied-Knittel &
Schetsche, 2005; for a discussion see: Drinkwater, Laythe et al., 2019).
Thirdly, occurrences of so-called street theateramong the frequent complaints of T.I.s.
This refers supposedly to premeditated actions or skits that take place in public settings
and which are designed to unnerve or harass victims by inicting sustained levels of
stress and anxiety. However, T.I.s claim that these exhibitions are crafted such that unin-
formed observers are likely to dismiss them as random examples of bad luck or a series
of unfortunate events. These happenings can therefore be viewed either as blatant mani-
festations of Trickster Theory (e.g., Hynes & Doty, 1993; Jung, 1956,1969) or Murphys Law
(i.e., anything that can go wrong will go wrong,see Spark, 2006).
This street theaterechoes some incidents frequently reported during investigative
probes of ghostly episodes. Particularly, researchers can feel exasperated during
eldwork studies when instrumentation malfunctions unexpectedly (Laythe & Houran,
2019; cf. Kruth & Joines, 2016), or anomalous events often remit once investigations
ensue (Roll, 1977). Other times, experients or participants in eldwork studies can publicly
disrupt or even sabotage proceedings with marked emotional or mental states associated
with the perception or report of S/O anomalies (see e.g., Houran, Wiseman, & Thalbourne,
2002; Terhune, Ventola, & Houran, 2007).
Assuming the present ndings and interpretations are valid, we must still be careful to
distinguish between etiologies of anomalous experiences versus the attributions imposed
on them (see e.g., David, 2010; Lange, Ross, Dagnall, Irwin, & Houran, 2019). Some of the
base S/O events might be grounded in ontological realities (Houran, 1997; Houran &
Lange, 1996b), but the corresponding interpretation(s) can still be erroneous or delusional.
Clinically speaking, we posit that HP-S reects the tendency of some individuals to adopt
implausible or esoteric explanations for recurring anomalous experiences due to improper
or biased consideration of evidence (see e.g., Irwin, Dagnall, & Drinkwater, 2012; Prike,
Arnold, & Williamson, 2018; Ross, Hartig, & McKay, 2017; van Elk, 2015; for a counterpoint
see: Laythe & Owen, 2012).
This supposition aligns in important ways to the Threat Anticipation Cognitive Model
(Ben-Zeev, Ellington, Swendsen, & Granholm, 2011; Freeman, Garety, Kuipers, Fowler, &
Bebbington, 2002) that suggests persecutory ideations result from emotional processes,
anomalous experiences, and reasoning biases. Advocates of this view specically argue
that a persons emotions give signicant meaning to strange, ambiguous, or coincidental
experiences, whereas reasoning biases induce paranoia or delusions of persecution.
However, we do not imply that every ghostly episode or potential expression of HP-S is
automatically a negative experience. In particular, S/O anomalies would seem to foster
comfort, wonder, or awe when their interpretation is grounded in terms or beliefs that
are non-threatening to ones personal space. These could include pleasant notions of
angels or mystical forces (Houran & Lange, 1997; Lange & Houran, 1996), shamanic
power animals (Houran, Lange, & Crist-Houran, 1997), or deceased loved ones (Evrard, 2017).
More rigorous studies are now needed to determine whether our ndings and con-
clusions generalise across group-stalking reports. Methodologies like Rasch scaling (e.g.,
Lange, 2017) or computerised Latent Semantic Analysis (e.g., Lange, Greyson, & Houran,
2015) seem more powerful to evaluate big-data sets than rudimentary content analyses
as used here and elsewhere (e.g., Drinkwater et al., 2013; Simmonds-Moore, 2016).
Additionally, investigating the nuances and commonalities between ghostly episodes
and group-stalking might provide further insights about whether (i) each are variants
on recognized forms of mass (contagious) psychogenic illness”—which Wessely (1987)
proposed as two discernible syndromes, i.e., mass anxiety hysteriaand mass motor hys-
teria(cf. Ali-Gombe, Guthrie, & McDermott, 1996), or (ii) each reects some potential
hybrid of these two syndromes.
Other considerations are personality or social factors that promote attributions of
group-stalking versus supernatural agency (Hill et al., 2018,2019). Anecdotes from Sheri-
dan and James (2015) might oer insights here. Although their survey documented nega-
tive eects on T.I.s, group-stalking accounts often also specied positive impacts.
Illustratively, many narratives (50%) indicated that being targeted conrmed their
beliefs along the lines of I have always stood outor I have always been special/
dierent.Accordingly the psychology of T.I.s might be rooted in neuroticism, narcissism,
superiority, or grandiosity, or a sense of disconnectedness or loneliness.
Moreover, research should also examine if the psychometric proles of focus persons in
ghostly episodes apply to self-described T.I.s. Many studies on paranormal belief and
experience strongly suggest there is an encounter-prone personalitygrounded in a per-
meable (or thin) mental boundary structure (e.g., Houran, Kumar, et al., 2002; Parra, 2018).
This prole might even capitalise on the potential biological basis or genetic predisposi-
tion for anomalous experience (McClenon, 2004,2012; Winkelman, 2004,2018).
All told, we think that the proposed syndrome model (i.e., HP-S) characterises the phe-
nomenology of these anomalous episodes more accurately than blanket terminology like
(entity) encounter experiences.And, studies might well uncover other novel or surprising
personications of HP-S and thereby establish that the core phenomenon is more preva-
lent or malleable than current surveys even suggest. Research must now test the validity of
this hypothesised construct, one which many readers might regard as controversial. We
likewise sympathise with the reservations of researchers and practitioners over the inven-
tion of new terms, labels, or concepts that seemingly pathologize meager descriptions of
certain attitudes and behaviours. Psychiatrist Peter Bregging eloquently summed up this
concern with his observation that, In reality, psychiatric diagnosing is a kind of spiritual
proling that can destroy lives and frequently does(Breggin, 2010, para. 2). Consequently,
we intend for the HP-S moniker to be behaviourally descriptive versus medically diagnostic.
Lastly, this study helps to corroborate the utility of the SSE measure for various quali-
quantitative studies of ghostly episodes and kindred experiences. We hope that our
approach motivates wider investigations of other everydaycases or phenomena in clini-
cal or abnormal psychologies masquerading as parapsychological events or vice versa. In
contrast to hypnosis (Noble & McConkey, 1995), experiments using structured or simulated
settings with non-clinical samples (French, Haque, Bunton-Stasyshyn, & Davis, 2009; Laythe
et al., 2017), quasi-experimental tasks with clinical patients (Caputo, 2014; Freeman et al.,
2015), or neuroimaging (Blackwood et al., 2000; Kossowska, Szwed, Wronka, Czarnek, &
Wyczesany, 2016), the study of anomalous experiences as exemplied here oers an
alternative, innocuous, and ecologically-valid way to research the formation or mainten-
ance of delusional ideations (pathological or non-pathological) that are otherwise
dicult to investigate from a behavioural science perspective due to their private nature.
1. We use HP-Svs HPS,because the latter acronym is already prevalent in the clinical litera-
ture to reference many dierent disorders or medical topics
2. Early investigators surmised that hysteriawas sometimes involved in haunt-related cases
(see e.g., Grasset, 1903-1904), so Lange and Hourans basic hypothesis is not wholly new or
3. Carol Carmel, Armed Recovery Agent,Updated Aug 22, 2017. Retrieved October 31, 2018
from. empha-
sis added to denote symptoms of stalking that seemingly map against those for haunt-polter-
geist accounts. This account has a raw tally of nine types of anomalous ghostlyevents that
equates to a Rasch score of 48.6 (SE = 2.8) on the SSE measure, which has a M= 50.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
Ciaran OKeee
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... Higher scores correspond to a greater number and diversity of anomalies that define the perceptual depth of a ghostly episode -basically analogous to the concept of "depth" in Greyson's (1983Greyson's ( , 1985Greyson's ( , 1990 Near-Death Experience Scale. We refer readers to Houran et al. (2019aHouran et al. ( , 2019b for details on the development of this instrument, as well as note that follow-up studies with the SSE back its value for content analyses of qualitative reports (Lange et al., 2020;O'Keeffe et al., 2019). ...
... In other words, the stronger that two probabilistic hierarchies are positively correlated, the more their respective phenomenologies (i.e., SSE item orders) align. Thus, as used in previous studies (Lange et al., 2020;O'Keeffe et al., 2019), these correlational analyses can serve diagnostic purposes when one strives to evaluate the likely source of IC accounts that seem ghostly in nature. ...
... To be sure, Armah and Landers-Potts (2021) found that adults who reported childhood ICs demonstrated an enhanced emotional response to external stimuli and a tendency to become absorbed in detailed recollections of events. This is where systems (or biopsychosocial) theory comes into play when describing the onset or contents of ghostly episodes and encounter experiences as an interplay of variables found in both the experient and the environment Hess, 1991;Hill et al., 2018Hill et al., , 2019Houran et al., 2020;Maraldi & Krippner, 2013;O'Keeffe et al., 2019). ...
Reports of childhood imaginary companions (IC) sometimes contain "creepy or spooky" perceptions or themes that suggest such occurrences could be overlooked or disguised forms of a "ghostly episode" or "entity encounter experience." This idea was explored via a content analysis of vetted narratives from the Reddit website involving ICs with haunt-type features (n = 143). We tested whether the phenomenology of these experiences: (a) show an "Age × Gender × Anxiety" effect consistent with the assumed psychology of focus persons in poltergeist-like experiences; (b) map to Houran et al.'s (2019b) Rasch hierarchy of anomalies associated with ghostly episodes per the Survey of Strange Events (SSE); and (c) correspond to a specific type of "haunt condition" (i.e., spontaneous, primed, lifestyle, fantasy, or illicit). Results indicated that ICs attributed to "ghosts" corresponded to higher SSE scores. Experients' gender and inferred anxiety likewise showed significant and positive associations with SSE scores. Finally, the SSE features of ghostly IC experiences most strongly correlated to the phenomenologies of "spontaneous" and "induced" haunt conditions as reported in Houran et al. (2019b). We discuss the results in terms of some ICs being anomalous or exceptional human experiences that might require approaches beyond developmental and clinical psychology to understand fully their contents, structure, and ultimate nature.
... This paper examines a real-life and rather remarkable "ghost story" via a mixed methods approach that continues our series of studies about people who claim to be haunted by anomalous beings or sentient forces Drinkwater et al., 2019;Houran et al., 2019a,b;O'Keeffe et al., 2019;Ventola et al., 2019;Lange et al., 2020). Some research suggests that outwardly disparate "(entity) encounter experiences "-e.g., spirits, angels, gods, demons, poltergeists, extraterrestrials, Men in Black (MIB), and folklore-type little people-generally have similar narrative structures (Evans, 1987;Hufford, 2001;Young, 2018) and perceptual contents (Houran, 2000;Houran and Lange, 2001b;Houran et al., 2019a). ...
... However, individuals with recurrent encounter experiences or ghostly episodes over time and under naturalistic and spontaneous conditions possibly represent a more complex or nuanced process. We speculate that such instances involve the hypothesized concept of "Haunted People Syndrome" (HP-S) (for overviews, see O'Keeffe et al., 2019;Lange et al., 2020;Laythe et al., 2021a). ...
... From 2011 to 2021 alone, Nell has perceived sensed presences, non-descript visual forms, alive-looking apparitions, mysticaltype beings, and folklore-type beings. There was also an event at Residence A that was reminiscent of a MIB encounter, as well as aspects of newly recognized types of encounter experiences like "group-(or gang) stalking" O'Keeffe et al., 2019). These patterns challenge the idea that encounter experiences constitute separate phenomena with different sources or mechanisms (e.g., Gauld and Cornell, 1979;Solfvin and Williams, 2021). ...
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Haunted People Syndrome (HP-S) denotes individuals who recurrently report various “supernatural” encounters in everyday settings ostensibly due to heightened somatic-sensory sensitivities to dis-ease states (e.g., marked but sub-clinical levels of distress), which are contextualized by paranormal beliefs and reinforced by perceptual contagion effects. This view helps to explain why these anomalous experiences often appear to be idioms of stress or trauma. We tested the validity and practical utility of the HP-S concept in an empirical study of an active and reportedly intense ghostly episode that was a clinical referral. The case centered on the life story of the primary percipient, a retired female healthcare worker. Secondary percipients included her husband and adult daughter, all of whom reported an array of benign and threatening anomalies (psychological and physical in nature) across five successive residences. Guided by prior research, we administered the family online measures of transliminality, sensory-processing sensitivity, paranormal belief, locus of control, desirability for control, and a standardized checklist of haunt-type phenomena. The primary percipient also completed a measure of adverse childhood events and supplied an event diary of her anomalous experiences. We found reasonably consistent support for HP-S from a set of quantitative observations that compared five proposed syndrome features against the family members’ psychometric profiles and the structure and contents of their anomalous experiences. Specifically, the reported anomalies both correlated with the family’s scores on transliminality and paranormal belief, as well as elicited attributions and reaction patterns aligned with threat (agency) detection. There was also some evidence of perceptual congruency among the family members’ anomalous experiences. Putative psi cannot be ruled out, but we conclude that the family’s ordeal fundamentally involved the symptoms and manifestations of thin (or “permeable”) mental boundary functioning in the face of unfavorable circumstances or overstimulating environments and subsequently acerbated by poor emotion regulation, histrionic and catastrophizing reactions, and active confirmation biases.
... Higher scores correspond to a greater number and diversity of anomalies that define the perceptual depth of a ghostly episode -basically analogous to the concept of "depth" in Greyson's (1983Greyson's ( , 1985Greyson's ( , 1990 Near-Death Experience Scale. We refer readers to Houran et al. (2019aHouran et al. ( , 2019b for details on the development of this instrument, as well as note that follow-up studies with the SSE back its value for content analyses of qualitative reports (Lange et al., 2020;O'Keeffe et al., 2019). ...
... In other words, the stronger that two probabilistic hierarchies are positively correlated, the more their respective phenomenologies (i.e., SSE item orders) align. Thus, as used in previous studies (Lange et al., 2020;O'Keeffe et al., 2019), these correlational analyses can serve diagnostic purposes when one strives to evaluate the likely source of IC accounts that seem ghostly in nature. ...
... To be sure, Armah and Landers-Potts (2021) found that adults who reported childhood ICs demonstrated an enhanced emotional response to external stimuli and a tendency to become absorbed in detailed recollections of events. This is where systems (or biopsychosocial) theory comes into play when describing the onset or contents of ghostly episodes and encounter experiences as an interplay of variables found in both the experient and the environment Hess, 1991;Hill et al., 2018Hill et al., , 2019Houran et al., 2020;Maraldi & Krippner, 2013;O'Keeffe et al., 2019). ...
... That is, the confluence of sensory-somatic sensitivities, situational context, and social milieu prompts certain individuals to grasp onto "ghosts" as the preferred explanation for perceived complexity (i.e., unresolved ambiguities) in their biopsychosocial environment (cf. Lange et al., 2020;Lange & Houran, 2001;O'Keeffe et al., 2019). The word or concept of "ghost" captures their experience, allows them to communicate it to others, and correspondingly turns the "unthought known" into a "thought known" (cf. ...
... We accordingly propose that clinicians approach these occurrences as transliminal perceptions, and in extreme cases, perhaps as transliminal "dramas" (cf. Houran, 2013;O'Keeffe et al., 2019). However, this does not mean that expressions of HP-S are inherently or entirely "negative" or unpleasant in their content or interpretation. ...
... A purpor tedly new incarnation of the encounter experience seems aligned to the modern tech-era. Particularly, "spirits, spooks, and the supernatural" are seemingly de-emphasized in favor of "satellites, surveillance, and stalking" in reports of so-called "group-(or gang) stalking" (Lange et al., 2020;O'Keeffe et al., 2019). Clearly from the above, an individual's belief systems and ideology play critical roles in how S/O events are interpreted, as well as the type and intensity of emotion(s) linked to these attributions. ...
Evidence suggests that subjective and objective anomalies associated with ghostly episodes form a unidimensional Rasch scale and that these interconnected “signs or symptoms” arguably describe a syndrome model. This view predicts that symptom perception—that is, the phenomenology of these anomalous episodes—can be markedly skewed by an experient’s psychological set. This is impacted, in turn, by psychosocial variables that affect attentional, perceptual, and interpretational processes. Therefore, we present an overview that discusses how (a) Belief in the Paranormal, (b) Religious Ideology, (c) Ideological Practice, (d) Social Desirability, (e) Latency, and (f) Environmental Setting ostensibly influence the contents or interpretations of accounts. These experiential details are similarly expected to reveal insights into the psychodynamics being expressed or contextualized via these narratives. Future research in this area should help to validate and clarify the proposed syndrome model, as well as explore which nuances in the phenomenology of ghostly episodes reflect idiosyncrasies of experients’ psychological set versus the nature of the core phenomenon itself.
... Within the present study, the authors viewed selfprocessed paranormal ability as a "psychological" rather than parapsychological process, analysis was broadly informed by an attributional approach O'Keeffe et al., 2019;Laythe et al., 2021). This acknowledges how the social perceiver uses information to construct and rationalise deterministic inferences and explanations (see D'Souza et al., 2020). ...
Full-text available
This study investigated personal perceptions (involvements) and comprehensions (interpretations) of self-ascribed paranormal abilities. Twelve participants with supposed supernatural powers took part in semi-structured interviews exploring the origin, phenomenology, and nature of their powers. Interview transcripts were analysed using reflexive thematic analysis (RTA), a qualitative method that identifies patterns within data. Four major themes expressed meanings and representations held by participants: Formative Influences (sub-themes: Gifted Family Members and Anomalous Occurrence), (Inter) Subjective Paranormal Experience (sub-themes: Transcendental/Mystic and Extra-Sensory Perception), Embodied Processes (sub-theme: Control), and Perception of Reality (two sub-themes: Self-Awareness and Fantastic/Surreal Perceptions). Consideration of themes identified an inextricable link between perception, interpretation, and belief in ability. Within narratives, interviewees outlined, contextualised, and established the validity of their powers. They drew upon supporting autobiographical evidence from their life histories and obfuscated and/or discounted conventional explanations. Generally, accounts reflected individual attempts to comprehend and justify the nature and experience of professed abilities. The authors discuss these processes and suggest ways to extend and develop ensuing research.
... We previously characterized people who recurrently experience S/O phenomena in spontaneous contexts in terms of HP-S (Lange et al., 2020;Laythe et al., 2021;O'Keeffe et al., 2019). The syndrome rubric is intended here as a descriptor of its associated phenomenology versus an indicator of an implicit medical condition or diseased state. ...
... We previously characterized recurrent experients of spontaneous S/O phenomena in terms of HP-S (Lange et al., 2020;O'Keeffe et al., 2019). The syndrome rubric is intended here as a descriptor of its associated phenomenology versus an indicator of an implicit medical condition or diseased state. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Entity encounter experiences (or encounter experiences; EEs) are commonly reported across the world (Hill et al., 2018) and comprise a “family tree” of related anomalies spanning claimed interaction with “spirits, angels, gods, demons, poltergeists, extraterrestrials, and folklore-type little people” (Evans, 1987; Houran et al., 2019). However, the attribution or interpretation by percipients follows in part from the sociocultural context in which the experience occurs. Additionally, techniques that alter waking consciousness can EEs, e.g., N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) — the “spirit molecule,” transcranial magnetic stimulation, trance and meditative states, or facilitated exercises like mirror- and eye-gazing and séance-type sessions (see Houran & Lange, 2001).
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The idea of ‘life after death’ transcends philosophy or religion, as science can test predictions from claims by both its advocates and skeptics. This study therefore featured two researchers with opposite views, who jointly gathered hundreds of research studies to evaluate the maximum average percentage effect that seemingly supports (i.e., anomalous effects) or refutes (i.e., known confounds) the survival hypothesis. The mathematical analysis found that known confounds did not account for 39% of survival-related phenomena that appear to attest directly to human consciousness continuing in some form after bodily death. Thus, we concluded that popular skeptical explanations are presently insufficient to explain a sizable portion of the purported evidence in favor of survival. People with documented experiences under conditions that overcome the known confounds thus arguably meet the legal requirements for expert witness testimony. The equation that led to our verdict can also purposefully guide future research, which one day might finally resolve this enduring question scientifically. Keywords: anomalous experience, empiricism, paranormal belief, probability, survival
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Fieldwork studies of "haunted houses" can offer ecologically valid insights for model-building or theory-formation in consciousness studies from parapsychological and conventional perspectives. The interactionist hypothesis asserts that these anomalous episodes are a phenomenon rooted in environment-person bidirectional influences. Although prior research has examined the role of various physical factors in some haunt cases, relatively recent findings in environmental psychology suggest the potential involvement of six "Gestalt influences" that transcend discrete variables as conscious-or unconscious-stimulants of witness experiences. These meta-patterns in the psychology of spaces or settings involve: (i) affordance, (ii) atmosphere, (iii) ambiguity and threat anticipatory processes, (iv) immersion and presence, (v) legibility, and (vi) percipient memory and associations. Thus, haunted houses might be variants of "enchanted spaces or extraordinary architectural experiences." New research designs are thus recommended to scrutinise the presence and impact of Gestalt influences and enactive processes in parapsychological contexts.
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The VAPUS model (Hill et al., 2018, 2019) characterizes the powerful "brand personality" of ghost narratives in terms of their Versatility, Adaptability, Participatory Nature, Universality, and Scalability. This suggests that these narratives act as cultural memes that partly reflect interpersonal or group dynamics. We use these themes in a review and conceptual synthesis of key literature to address the phenomenon of "gaslighting," which denotes the determined efforts of an influencer to alter the perceptions of a targeted individual. Modelling ghost narratives as psychosocial constructions implies malleability via attitudinal and normative influences. Accordingly, we specify and discuss two apparent manifestations of this narrative plasticity, i.e., "positive (reinforcing) gaslighting" (i.e., confirmation biases) or "negative (rejecting) gaslighting" (i.e., second-guessing or self-doubt). These ideas clarify some Trickster-type effects and imply that all ghost narratives likely involve gaslighting to an extent.
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We documented 10 instances of anomalous movements ("PK events") of two objects under quasi-controlled conditions at a reported haunt and time-synced to readings of electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Using a series of published binomial tests, we analyzed each axis of a "target" meter (within two-feet of the affected objects) for deviant EMF activity, along with the outputs from a "control" meter approximately 12-feet away. Results indicated that the time-periods before and during the "PK events" coincided with significant suppression of EMFs, whereas the control meter showed no significant changes. Similarly, no pattern was found in terms of axis on either meter "aligning," suggesting that the EMF field associated with the object movements was local to the area of the target meter. The results seem to conceptually replicate previous findings in which EMF-variability (i.e., expansion or suppression) has been detected in association with demonstrably objective or physical haunt-type phenomena.
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Haunt and poltergeist' experiences tend to occur around certain individuals ('person-focusing'). To study this phenomenon, a convenience sample of college students (N = 313) completed measures of trait Anxiety and Depression, Vulnerability, Intellect, Paranormal Belief (New Age Philosophy and Traditional Paranormal Beliefs), Locus of Control, Fear of the Paranormal, Rational Engagement, Experiential Ability, Experiential Engagement and Transliminality, along with demographic information and details about their haunt-type experiences. Two groups were randomly formed that each included 'haunters' (those reporting experiences) and 'non-haunters' (no experiences). Using a split-sample approach, we explored associations between the psychometric variables and haunt reports in Sample 1 (Haunters n = 73; Non-Haunters n = 74) and tested the generalizability of the results in a replication with Sample 2 (Haunters n = 85; Non-Haunters n = 61). The psychometric variables generally showed non-significant associations with the onset or specific features ('number of discrete events' and 'number of discrete modalities') of haunters' experiences. However, moderate-sized effects of Transliminality replicated across samples. The New Age Philosophy variety of paranormal belief was a secondary variable that replicated in correlational analyses only. Findings suggest a transliminal basis to person-focusing, and this profile informs model-building and theory-formation for these experiences in terms of stimulus detection and interpretation.
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We continue our integrative review of nearly 20 years of sociocultural research and popular trends on ghosts, haunted houses, and poltergeists (collectively termed "ghostly episodes") that commenced in Part I (Hill, O'Keeffe, Laythe, Dagnall, Drinkwater, Ventola, & Houran, 2018). That analysis characterized the powerful brand personality of ghost narratives in terms of their Versatility, Adaptability, Participatory nature, Universality, and Scalability. This VAPUS model emphasizes that these narratives serve as cultural memes which, in part, reflect interpersonal or group dynamics. We illustrate these themes via three analyses that explore the role of the media, the use of technology to legitimatize amateur organizations, and the resulting conflict between popularized ghost-hunting groups, skeptic organizations, and parapsychology. Optimistically, we expect the VAPUS model can guide the development of new means or methods that aim to delineate and even bridge some of the competing social forces that shape or sustain these narratives in the popular culture and thereby constructively advance research in this domain.
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We extend Laythe, Houran, and Ventola's (2018) psychometric study of 'ghost and haunt' percipients by examining transliminality in relation to focus persons in poltergeist disturbances. The classic pathology (or disease) model of presumed agents is barely supported by empirical research and may be inaccurate. However, we identified eight psychological characteristics of focus persons that arguably reflect a loose mental boundary structure in these individuals. We found that seven of these eight characteristics (or 88%) showed positive and low-to-moderate (attenuated) correlations with scores on the Revised Transliminality Scale. The available literature also suggests a link between outcomes on tests of putative psi and transliminality. Altogether, Laythe et al.'s original hypothesis can be amended to a transliminal disease model for poltergeist outbreaks, which accommodates subclinical (pathology-free) states that can coincide with childhood trauma, and which can act as one potential, but not exclusive, stimulant in these episodes.
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A review of nearly 20 years of sociocultural research and trends on "ghostly episodes" (ghosts, haunted houses, and poltergeists) suggests that personal accounts, group investigations, and popular depictions of anomalous experiences function as active, meaningful, and potent cultural memes. These, in part, reflect interpersonal or group dynamics grounded in Durkheimian models, as well as Social Identity and Conflict theories. Expanding on and integrating these themes, this paper provides a general framework that explains the enduring popularity of ghost narratives in terms of their versatility, adaptability, participatory nature, universality, and scalability (VAPUS model). This perspective implies that ghostly episodes, as experiences and narratives, embody and exemplify the marketing concepts of "brand personality" and consumer engagement. Accordingly, social and cultural influences are discussed as important and inherent contextual variables that help to produce, promote, shape, and sustain these narratives.
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We review conceptualizations and measurements of base (or core) experiences commonly attributed to haunts and poltergeists (i.e., “ghostly episodes”). Case analyses, surveys, controlled experiments, and field studies have attempted to gauge anomalous experiences in this domain, albeit with methods that do not cumulatively build on earlier research. Although most approaches agree, to an extent, on the base experiences or events that witnesses report, the literature lacks a standard operationalization that can be used to test the factor structure of these occurrences or allow meaningful comparisons of findings across studies. Towards filling this gap, we identified 28 base experiences that include subjective (or psychological) experiences, more typical of haunts, and objective (or physical) manifestations, more common to poltergeist-like disturbances. This qualitatively-vetted list is proposed as the foundation for new measurement approaches, research designs, and analytical methods aimed to advance model-building and theory-formation. Keywords: ghost, haunt, phenomenology, poltergeist, psychometrics
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Research on the psychology of paranormal, religious, and delusional belief has been stifled by a lack of careful distinction between anomalous experiences and their corresponding attributions. The Survey of Anomalous Experience (SAE; Irwin, Dagnall, & Drinkwater, 2013) addresses this nuance by measuring proneness to anomalous experience (PAE) and proneness to paranormal attribution (PPA). Using data (351 men, 1,026 women) from 7 previously published studies, we examined the SAE's internal validity via Rasch scaling and differential item functioning analyses. PPA showed good Rasch model fit and no item bias, but it lacked adequate reliability. Several PAE items showed misfit to the Rasch model or gender bias, though deleting 5 items produced a scale with acceptable reliability. Finally, we failed to validate a 3-category rating scale version with the goal of improving the SAE's psychometric properties. All 3 formulations revealed a secondary factor related to the items' extremity rather than contents, suggesting that future research should consider the intensity of respondents' anomalous experiences and paranormal attributions.
Ghosts and other supernatural phenomena are widely represented throughout modern culture. They can be found in any number of entertainment, commercial, and other contexts, but popular media or commodified representations of ghosts can be quite different from the beliefs people hold about them, based on tradition or direct experience. Personal belief and cultural tradition on the one hand, and popular and commercial representation on the other, nevertheless continually feed each other. They frequently share space in how people think about the supernatural. In Haunting Experiences, three well-known folklorists seek to broaden the discussion of ghost lore by examining it from a variety of angles in various modern contexts. Diane E. Goldstein, Sylvia Ann Grider, and Jeannie Banks Thomas take ghosts seriously, as they draw on contemporary scholarship that emphasizes both the basis of belief in experience (rather than mere fantasy) and the usefulness of ghost stories. They look closely at the narrative role of such lore in matters such as socialization and gender. And they unravel the complex mix of mass media, commodification, and popular culture that today puts old spirits into new contexts.