Magnetic Fields and Haunting Phenomena: A Basic Primer for Paranormal Enthusiasts


Nov 1, 2007

Electromagnetic fields are AC fields that are most often produced artificially by electrical power currents such as those found in our homes. In some instances, they may also be produced naturally by geophysical sources, such electricity produced through seismic pressure on conductive rock along fault zones (Persinger, 1985, 1987), and very low frequency atmospherics, which are electromagnetic pulses produced from electrical discharges after a lightning strike that average around 0.6 milliGauss (Schienle et al., 1998).

The issue of possible health effects in humans due to electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure has received a great deal of attention over the past several decades (Hafemeister, 1996; Portier & Wolfe, 1998; Zipse, 1993), and this may still be a relevant issue today with the high volume of computers, electronics, and appliances that have been introduced into the home and workplace. Prolonged exposure to the magnetic fields given off by these devices may provide a reason as to why haunt-related experiences are sometimes reported in new and fairly recent buildings, as opposed to the stereotypical old, abandoned, and eerie-looking building that play host to urban legends. For example, Persinger, Koren, and O’Connor (2001; Persinger & Koren, 2001, pp. 184 – 187) investigated reports of haunt phenomena (including apparitions, sensing a presence and an unseen touch, nightmares, breathing & whispering sounds, and light flashes) in the small home of a young adult couple. The house itself contained a large amount of electronics and appliances, and was described as being “overwired” and not properly grounded.

Concern has also been raised over the effects that electromagnetic field exposure may have on brain functioning and resulting mental health (Paneth, 1993; O’Connor, 1993), and at least some experimental studies have seemingly demonstrated an effect. For example, two studies have observed possible changes in brain wave activity on an electroencephalogram (EEG) following brief (2 sec.) exposure to EMFs as strong as 780 milliGauss and higher (Bell et al., 1992; von Klitzing, 1991), similar to the levels we may find at haunt sites. Persinger, Richards, and Koren (1997) found brain wave changes when lower strength magnetic fields (10 milliGauss) were applied over longer periods of time (several minutes), with these changes even continuing for a short time after the magnetic field has been removed. A review of experimental studies also suggests that changes in brain chemistry and hormone levels may sometimes occur in response to EMF exposure (Reiter, 1993). A considerable amount of evidence suggests that EMF exposure can also affect sleep (Sher, 2000), which might contribute to haunt experiences that occur during sleeping hours. Gangi and Johansson (2000) have even proposed a model which suggests that EMF exposure may cause certain skin cells to release inflammatory substances that may cause itching and other skin sensations. If their model is correct, it may perhaps be a way to account for some of the strange skin and touching sensations that people sometimes experience at haunt sites.

The suggestion that electromagnetic field exposure might be tied in some way to apparition or ghost experiences comes from both laboratory studies and field investigations. In the laboratory, Persinger, Tiller, and Koren (2000) were able to study the experiences of a man who had reported haunt phenomena in his home a few years before. When they applied a 10 milliGauss EMF, which had a complex wave pattern, to his brain, the man reported experiencing brief “rushes of fear” and various odd sensations, followed by him seeing a visual image that seemed to resemble the apparition he saw in his home. Changes in the man’s brain wave activity were also observed by EEG in conjunction with his experience. See also Persinger (2001) and Persinger and Koren (2001, pp. 190 – 192) for other discussions of this and a related study.

The electromagnetic fields in most buildings tend to average between 0.2 and 2 milliGauss. However, various field investigations have found EMFs notably above this average at haunt sites (e.g., Persinger et al., 2001; Roll et al., 1996; Roll & Persinger, 2001, pp. 154 – 163; Wiseman et al., 2002). This is not always the case, however; there are at least two field investigations that did not find strong EMFs at the haunt sites when measuring for them (Maher, 2000; Maher & Hansen, 1997).

To measure electromagnetic fields, one of the least expensive yet effective devices that a paranormal enthusiast may commonly use is a second type of meter made by Alphalab, the TriField Electromagnetic Field Meter [1]. This meter is calibrated to measure EMFs such as those generated by power lines, and gives readings in units of milliGauss. When taking readings with this meter, it is important to note any possible sources around the meter (e.g., electronics and appliances, power generators, running cars, & electrical wiring) that may naturally cause the meter’s needle to move higher or even spike, and which may lead to a false reading.