Fear of ghosts can be contagious, Edinburgh academic claims

ACADEMICS have warned that fear of a '˜haunted' house in a Scottish village could be contagious.

Parapsychologist Dr Caroline Watt claims the fear of the paranormal can be contagious. Picture: Neil Hanna
Parapsychologist Dr Caroline Watt claims the fear of the paranormal can be contagious. Picture: Neil Hanna

The caretaker of a 17th century flax mill near Kennoway, Fife, has reported various paranormal activities at the property in the two years he has been there.

His family and fellow workers have heard strange noises in the houses and unusual voices, as well as ghost-like figures appearing inside and the TV volume going up and down by itself.

They’ve even called in expert ‘ghostbusters’ to try and get the bottom of what’s happening.

Now, one of the country’s top paranormal experts has warned that fear and anticipation of apparently paranormal events can be “contagious”.

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Professor Caroline Watt - who holds Edinburgh University’s Koestler Chair of Parapsychology - feels fear of paranormal activity can be “socially contagious” as hysteria builds up around a certain house.

Professor Watt said: “Research has shown that people’s expectations can influence how they react to naturally occurring ambiguous sights and sounds in their environment.

“For example, one study by researchers from Illinois University at Springfield took two groups on a tour of a disused theatre.

“One group was told the theatre was haunted, while the other was told it was under renovation.

“Both groups reported unusual sights and sounds, however more intense paranormal-type experiences were reported by the ‘haunted’ group.

“In that study, each group member toured the theatre individually. However the same researchers have found evidence to support their theory that fear and anticipation of ghostly experiences can be socially contagious leading to an increased number of false perceptions

of ghosts.”

Her claims are backed up by Professor Christopher French, head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit as the Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London.

Professor French specialises in conspiracy theories and false memories and admits that usually there are legitimate reasons for incidents people think are paranormal.

He said: “Sometimes, just by chance, you’d expect to get a run of such mildly ‘anomalous’ events over a relatively short time period.

“Some of the events probably have physical explanations. For example, the TV volume fluctuating is probably nothing more than a fault in the equipment.

“The nocturnal apparitions may well be examples of sleep paralysis, a scary but harmless hallucinatory experience that is common in both children and adults.”