In a new study, scientists have determined which traits may make a person more likely to experience hearing the voices of the dead.
According to the study, a predisposition to high levels of absorption in tasks, unusual auditory experiences in childhood, and a high susceptibility to auditory hallucinations all occur more strongly in people who claim they have heard voices of the dead.
The study can help researchers better understand the auditory hallucinations that occur in mental disorders such as schizophrenia.
Clairvoyance and clairaudience, the experiences of seeing or hearing something in the absence of an external stimulus, respectively, are topics of great scientific interest.
Anthropologists studying religious and spiritual experiences and scientists studying pathological hallucinatory experiences are equally interested.
Specifically, researchers want to know why some people with such auditory experiences report having a Spiritualist experience, but others find the experience terrifying and are then diagnosed with a mental disorder.
“Spiritualists tend to report unusual auditory experiences which are positive, start early in life and which they are often then able to control,” Peter Moseley psychologist at Northumbria University in the UK said.
“Understanding how these develop is important because it could help us understand more about distressing or non-controllable experiences of hearing voices too,” he added.
Moseley and his colleague, psychologist Adam Powell of Durham University in the UK, recruited and surveyed 65 clairaudient mediums from the UK’s Spiritualists’ National Union. They also recruited 143 members of the general population using social media. They attempted to determine the difference between Spiritualists and the general public, who do not generally report hearing the voices of the dead.
Their findings found that 44.6 percent of the Spiritualists reported hearing voices daily. 79 percent said the experiences were part of their daily lives. Most reported hearing the voices inside their head, but 31.7 percent said that the voices were also external.
Compared to the general population, the Spiritualists reported a much higher belief in the paranormal. They were also less likely to care what other people thought of them.
The Spiritualists reported having their first auditory experience at a young age, 21.7 years old on average. They also reported a high level of absorption, which is a term used to describe full immersion in mental tasks and activities or altered states, and how effective someone is at tuning out the world around them.
The Spiritualists also reported that they were more prone to hallucination-like experiences.
In the general population, high levels of absorption were also strongly correlated with belief in the paranormal. However, there was little to no susceptibility to auditory hallucinations.
Researchers say these results show that experiencing hearing the voices of the dead is not caused by peer pressure, social context, or belief in the paranormal. Rather, people adopt Spiritualism because it aligns with their personal experience.
“Our findings say a lot about ‘learning and yearning’. For our participants, the tenets of Spiritualism seem to make sense of both extraordinary childhood experiences as well as the frequent auditory phenomena they experience as practising mediums,” Powell said.
He continued, “But all of those experiences may result more from having certain tendencies or early abilities than from simply believing in the possibility of contacting the dead if one tries hard enough.”