Late last year, skeptic Rick Duffy had the idea to survey a number of ghost hunting groups to provide some insight into the current state of popular paranormal research. He was curious to find out where they do their investigations, the techniques and tools they use, and which kinds of services they offer. Rick aimed to not only canvass opinion among these groups, but also to prompt members to reflect on their own beliefs and procedures.
531 groups were contacted in total, and 113 groups participated in the survey. These groups span 32 states in the US, and other countries including Canada, Italy, the UK and Germany. Due to Rick’s considerable efforts, and the assistance of Bryan Bonner, the results are now in! The report of the Survey of Paranormal Research and Ghost Hunting Groups is now available online, but here’s a peek at some of the interesting findings.
Most group names include a local city or area identifier, along with the words Paranormal, Research, Ghost, Investigations or Society. The primary goals of these groups are to conduct research, to educate others and themselves, and to help people. Some groups say they want to also “help the spirits and ghosts”, probably to help them to “crossover”. About 20% listed their main goal as to develop or appear on a television show or series.
Most teams have no overall group religious identity, although 41% indicate that their members have been blessed or prayed for during an investigation. Some 44% of groups have a team psychic, sensitive or intuitive, while a small number have a team “skeptic” or “debunker”. Some groups have a team EVP specialist, demon warrior, animal intuitive or exorcist. A few groups consult astrology or feng shui before conducting their investigations.
Unlike the stereotypes, these groups rarely investigate cemeteries. The most popular locations include private residences, followed by public places, historic sites or businesses. Most often, the groups are invited to investigate the premises by owners or residents. The groups claim to find paranormal activity at least half of the time, and half of them encountered activity they believed to be evil. Some 11% of ghost hunters claim they’ve had clients who were posessed, and the action taken was to enlist help from Catholic clergy, or to perform a cleansing or deliverance. About half of the groups have encouraged a client to seek psychological help.
The average group has 8 members, and most are between 20-40 years old. They often don’t go advertising for new members, instead, people find them. Members come from a range of backgrounds, and most of their ghost hunting training is taught in-house or learned on the job. They perform about 2 investigations per month, which last about 6 hours. Their favorite tools include audio and video recorders, EMF detectors, thermometers, IR/ night vision technology and spirit flashlights. To increase paranormal activity, some groups use trigger objects, provocation, re-enactment, or crystals, pendulums, and even table tipping. Groups like to investigate in the evening, until the morning hours, and they do it with the lights off, because their equipment works best in the dark.
A few groups offer a range of other services, including classes, cleansings, tours, merchandise and spiritual protection or exorcism. The average group doesn’t charge for their “services”, although a few groups do.
Many groups report that they have changed over time; they claim to be more scientific and skeptical, and also to be less interested in fame and having a media presence. Let’s hope that this is true. Unfortunately, other groups have future plans; they hope to acquire more equipment, to increase their media presence, to legitimize their field by finding “proof” of the paranormal, or to join TAPS.
Rick is now interested in conducting a follow-up survey next year, to acquire additional information, and to see if any of the groups have since disbanded. It seems that most ghost hunting groups are transitory.
For more information about the survey, visit http://iigcolorado.org/node/2.
1. Additional thanks to Bryan Hineser for his contributions to the survey. This project is affiliated with the Independent Investigations Group (IIG), Colorado.
2. Readers may also be interested in a similar study undertaken by Sharon Hill. For her Master of Education thesis, Sharon conducted a study of amateur paranormal groups. Her objective was to discover if and how these groups claim to use science. An article about her project can be found here. Upon request, Sharon will also provide the full results of her research.
Dr. Karen Stollznow is a linguist, author, skeptical paranormal investigator and a research fellow for the James Randi Foundation. You can follow Karen on Twitter here.