19 January 2021

Hallucinations or the whispers of ghosts?

The Back Page

Many people would assume they had a medical condition if they started hearing voices – but some people draw the conclusion that they are conversing with the spirits of the dead. 

Spiritualists – those who believe that dead people have ways of communicating with us – tend to be less distressed by their strange experiences than people who seek medical attention.

Two psychologists based in the UK, Peter Moseley and Adam Powell, have been looking into what traits differentiate spiritualists.

“That spiritualists report less stress and a ‘decreased need for coping’ has been attributed to a positive social context which validated, rather than stigmatised, their earliest voice hearing experiences,” the psychologists said. 

“Spiritualists tend to report unusual auditory experiences which are positive, start early in life and which they are often then able to control,” said psychologist Peter Moseley.

Let the dead fight your battles…

“Understanding how these develop is important because it could help us understand more about distressing or non-controllable experiences of hearing voices too.”

In their paper, published in Mental Health, Religion & Culture, the psychologists surveyed “spiritualist mediums (N=65)” – we don’t know why we find this wording so funny – and a control group of 143 non-mediums.  

(The Back Page falls squarely into the non-medium population but can hear the voices of ghost writers!)

Around half of the spiritualists reported hearing voices every day and around 80% said hallucination-like experiences were routine. 

The average age for the first auditory experience was around 22 years.

The spiritualists tended to have a high level of “absorption” – “a trait capturing an individual’s propensity to be fully attentive to, and immersed in, external and internal stimuli such as movies, music, and mental imagery”, according to the researchers. 

“Our findings say a lot about ‘learning and yearning’,” said psychologist Adam Powell. 

“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. 

“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.”

If you see something paranormal, say something paranormal… If any of the dead wish to contact this columnist, email felicity@medicalrepublic.com.au.

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