How Does The Ideomotor Effect Explain the Supernatural?

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"You're pushing it!" This common accusation during Ouija board sessions is usually accurate—it's just that the accused doesn't always know it. That's because Ouija boards, along with many other "paranormal" phenomena, work via the ideomotor effect: a phenomenon where beliefs, suggestions, or expectations can actually cause your muscles to move without your knowledge. Ask the "spirits" a question you want to be true, and your hands will gently push the planchette toward "yes" without you even realizing it. Dowsing, the ancient practice of detecting water or other valuable resources with the movement of a special rod or pendulum, works the same way. Likewise with table tilting, a practice popular in séances where guests would rest their hands on a table as the "spirits" made it turn and slide around the room. This isn't just an ancient idea: as recently as 2013, businessman James McCormick was convicted of fraud after selling Iraqi security forces fake bomb detectors that worked on the same principle.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Ghost hunters use scientific equipment that has an actual scientific purpose, but has not been proven to detect ghosts. 00:09

  2. Ouija boards work via a psychological phenomenon called the ideomotor effect, where suggestions or expectations unconsciously affect reflexes. 00:27

  3. Hauntings and ghost sightings can be caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, psychological problems, and infrasound. 00:48

Written by Ashley Hamer May 4, 2016