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Ghost Hunting

Ghost hunting is the process of investigating locations said to be haunted.

Typically, a ghost “hunting party” will involve 4-8 individuals who work as a team to collect evidence of paranormal activity. Ghost hunters often employ electronic equipment of various types, such as; EMF Meters, digital thermometers, infrared, thermographic, and night vision cameras, handheld video cameras, digital audio recorders, and computers. Organized teams of ghost hunters are also called paranormal investigation teams.

Critics of ghost hunting say there is a total lack of scientifically testable and verifiable evidence in favor of the existence of ghosts, despite centuries of interest in the subject.[1]


Pliny the Younger recorded what has been regarded as the first story of a ghost hunt in 100 AD.[2] The story was already a century old when Pliny told it, and concerns a haunted house in ancient Athens being investigated by a philosopher named Athenodoros Cananites.

The Ghost Club, founded in London in 1862, is believed to be the oldest paranormal research organization in the world. Famous members of the club have included Charles Dickens, Sir William Crookes, Sir William Fletcher Barrett and Harry Price.

In the mid 1880’s, William James, philosopher and founder of the American Psychological Association and brother of Henry James suggested applying scientific method to paranormal questions such as the existence of ghosts or spirits. He found allies in England such as Alfred Russel Wallace, Cambridge philosopher Henry Sidgwick and his wife, Eleanor, Edmund Gurney, and others to form the core of the Society for Psychical Research to collect evidence concerning apparitions, haunted houses, and similar phenomena. The investigators gathered case studies, attended séances, designed tests of claimants’ veracity, and ran what came to be known as the Census of Hallucinations, which counted apparitions of persons who were said to have made spectral appearances on the day they died.[3]

Similar investigation into hauntings was undertaken by Harry Price through London’s National Laboratory of Psychical Research during the 1920s, and later in the 1950s and 60s by German and American independent researchers such as Hans Holzer and Ed and Lorraine Warren. Other paranormal and parapsychological investigators like Loyd Auerbach, Christopher Chacon and William Roll were each independently conducting field and laboratory investigations in the 1970s and 80s, long before reality TV cast a spotlight onto this subject matter.

Ghost hunting among part-time hobbyists began to be popular in the late 1970s with the founding of the Chicago area Ghost Tracker’s Club, which became the Ghost Research Society (GRS) in 1981.

In the last decade, the term “paranormal investigation” has increasingly been adopted by hobbyist and professional groups who do not investigate any other aspects of the paranormal such as Extra-sensory perception and Psychokinesis, but whose sole purpose is ghost hunting.


Easy access to information on the world wide web, movies such as Ghost Busters, and TV shows, particularly Ghost Hunters, are thought to be partly responsible for the current boom in ghost hunting. One popular website for ghost hunting enthusiasts lists over 300 of these organizations throughout the United States and the United Kingdom.[4] There are now hundreds of Internet message boards and web sites dedicated to the pursuit. Many of the sites declare themselves free of Ouija boards, which are frowned upon as unscientific among some paranormal enthusiasts. Along with ghost tracking tips, the sites discuss everything from high-tech equipment to analysis of investigations. Many feature ghost photos and videos, often appearing as blurry mist or blobs of light, called “orbs” by insiders. Similarly, audio recordings are referred to as “EVPs,” or electronic voice phenomena, sometimes sounding like garbles and warbles amid background noise.[5]

Scores of small businesses selling ghost-hunting equipment, ghost investigation services, and even ghost counseling, are booming outside of their prime season, Halloween. Several companies recently introduced new devices billed as ghost detectors, along with the traditional electromagnetic field detectors, white noise generators, and infrared motion sensors. The paranormal boom is such that some small ghost-hunting related businesses are enjoying increased profits through podcast and web site advertising, books, DVDs, videos, and other commercial enterprises.[6]

In the U.S., the popularity of ghost hunting has led to some property damage and injuries, according to news sources. Unaware that a “spooky home” in Worthington, Ohio was occupied, a group of teenagers went to check it out. The homeowner fired shots to scare off the trespassers, shooting a girl in the head.[7] Another group of teenagers in Peru, Maine admitted to accidentally starting a fire while hunting for ghosts inside of a former wood mill. Trespassing or vandalizing ghost hunters have also been arrested in cemeteries in Illinois, Connecticut, and other states.[8]

Among ghost hunters, some are also devotees of urban exploration, a growing hobby where enthusiasts venture into abandoned structures such as hospitals, asylums, and sanatoriums.

While interest in the paranormal heats up, so does the competition between ghost hunting organizations. As many groups scramble for publicity, rivalry and feuds are common. Commercially-active groups such as TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) and IGHS (International Ghost Hunters Society) often attempt to discredit the other’s legitimacy.[9]

Ghost Hunting Equipment and Methods

Ghost hunters use a variety of tools and techniques to investigate alleged paranormal activity. While there is no universal acceptance among ghost hunters of the following methodologies, a number of these are commonly utilized by ghost hunting groups.[10][11]

  • Still and video photography – using infrared, digital, night vision, and even disposable film cameras to capture evidence of possible visual manifestations, such as orbs, mist, apparitions, and ectoplasm.
  • EMF measurement – using electromagnetic field meters to detect possible unexplained magnetic fields which some attribute to the presence of ghosts and spirits, and at times used to spirit communication.
  • Temperature measurement – using infrared, and thermal cameras, imaging video cameras, and/or hand-held infrared surface and ambient temperature sensors to detect changes in the environment, such as “cold spots”, which some believe accompany paranormal activity.
  • Digital and analog audio recording – to capture anomalous audio, including voices and sounds that may be interpreted as electronic voice phenomena, which some theorize are attempts at communication by paranormal entities.
  • Geiger counter – to measure fluctuations in radiation which some believe will point to a disturbance in spirit energy.
  • Ion Meters – to detect an excess of negative ions which some feel are associated with paranormal activity.
  • Infrared and/or ultrasonic motion sensors – to detect possible anomalous movement within a given area, or to assist in creating a controlled environment where any human movement is detected.
  • Air quality monitoring equipment – to assess the levels of gases such a carbon monoxide which are thought contribute to reports of paranormal activity. (Also see carbon monoxide poisoning).[12]
  • Infrasound monitoring equipment – to assess the level of sound vibrations below 20Hz which is thought to contribute to reports of paranormal activity.[12]

Non-objective “Equipment”

  • Dowsing rods – usually constructed of brass and bent into an L-shape, dowsing rods may be used by those who feel they help indicate the presence of ghosts and spirits.
  • Psychics – trance mediums or “sensitive” individuals thought to have the ability to identify and make contact with spiritual entities. (This practice is considered controversial among groups that prefer a scientific approach)
  • Demonologists, or Clergy Members – individuals who may say prayers, give blessings, or perform rituals for the purpose of cleansing a location of alleged ghosts, demons, poltergeists, or “negative energy”. (Also considered controversial among groups that prefer a scientific approach)


  • Lights-Out – Many ghost hunters prefer to conduct their investigations during “peak” evening hours (midnight to 4 a.m.) when most paranormal activity is said to occur. This time period seems to have been put forth in the 1970s and was supported by Lorraine Warren. Most paranormal groups favor the ‘lights out’ or black-out conditions, theorizing that it’s easier to see a possible apparition in the dark since it requires less energy to manifest. According to the theory, spirits/ghosts that attempt to manifest themselves (become corporeal or material-visible) do so by drawing energy from all surrounding sources of both electric and magnetic waves/frequencies. This is one of the reasons why paranormal groups utilize the Gauss (or Electromagnetic Frequency (EMF)) meter. By drawing these energies from surrounding sources, they are enabling themselves to be seen in this plane of existence. A popular thought among ghost hunters is that any equipment that behaves erratically (temporary and inexplicable battery drains, electronic units that shut down, flickering lights or other unexplainable anomalies) point to the presence of a spirit/ghost that is attempting to materialize. Some have even explained that people who experience nausea or dizziness are being subsequently affected by these manifesting spirits/ghosts due to the fact that our brain’s synapses (all electrically based) are misfiring and causing an equilibrium change that affects the individual’s perception. Additionally, some paranormal investigators point to a disturbance of their equipment by the presence of fluorescent or other types of lighting. Critics of the lights-out method of investigation point to the lack of evidence regarding the apparition-occurrence-to-darkness ratio, indicating that, historically, 80% of full-body apparitions have been witnessed during daylight hours. Daytime investigations, they claim, will produce markedly better results since the video and photographic evidence will be much clearer and more concise for others who scrutinize such evidence. Some also experiment in wavelengths on the fringe of human vision including red and ultraviolet light[12].
  • Interviews – to collect testimony and stories from witnesses, often compiled into a computer database for further study. Some groups also research the history of a location in hopes of learning more about past events and individuals associated with the site.

Types of Investigators and Groups

Individuals engaged in ghost hunting and paranormal investigation have varying motives for their activities.

  • Some ghost hunters consider themselves hobbyists whose primary motivation is the excitement of the hunt and the thrill of possibly experiencing something supernatural. Many of these individuals enjoy spending significant time pursuing their hobby.
  • Others consider themselves serious researchers who follow a number of scientific protocols and share documentation of their research with other groups in an effort to discover proof that ghosts exist. They often go about their pursuit in a prescribed manner in order to gather evidence of paranormal activity at a given location, or debunk “false positive” reports of hauntings. Many established groups fall into this category.
  • Still others consider themselves to be providing a service, and focus their investigation on offering comfort and assistance to individuals who feel they are experiencing unexplained or paranormal activity at a home or other location. These investigators approach a location with the goal of alleviating the fear and discomfort of the occupants by listening to their experiences and providing advice and reassurance.
  • Some so-called paranormal groups mimics the methodology of a traditional ghost/demon hunting team; however, their primary goal is to frighten the homeowner/client into a belief that they are in danger and that immediate action to “cleanse” the home is imperative. These groups will act quickly to confuse the homeowner/client by pointing to certain items in the home as being “possessed” and will then offer to remove said items to make the home safe. Typically, these items are antiques, relics, or family heirlooms that will later be put on display in a paranormal museum hosted by said group where a charge is incurred for admission to view such articles.

Typically, ghost hunting groups are a mix of several differing outlooks.[13] Most advertise their services online, but the majority do not charge for investigations in hopes of finding new and interesting places to explore.

Summarized by other groups, there are four basic classifications of ghost hunters, though many groups can fall into one or more categories.

1- Scientific, generally out to either prove or disprove paranormal phenomena such as ghosts through the use of scientific protocols.

2- Interactive, using both science and practiced beliefs to form an answer about phenomena. This group can include students of cryptozoology, UFO’s, conspiracies, etc.

3- Chasers/Busters, avid believers out to prove by any means that a phenomenon does exist, even regardless of evidence.

4- Religious/Spiritual, believers who specialize in religious beliefs or occult beliefs and who fight against the practices of negative forces, such as demons and evil presences.

[14] PGR-IN handbook


Ghost hunting is practiced by many paranormal investigation groups whose members sometimes promote their findings on the web as proof of hauntings. These findings are generally challenged by skeptics as wishful thinking, pareidolia or the product of scientifically unsound practices and beliefs. Critics question ghost-hunting’s methodology, particularly its use of instrumentation, as there is no scientifically-proven link between the existence of ghosts and cold spots or electromagnetic fields.[1] According to skeptical investigator Joe Nickell, “…the approach of the typical ghost hunter—a nonscientist using equipment for a purpose for which it was not made and has not been shown to be effective—is sheer pseudoscience.” [2] There is also concern that members of ghost-hunting groups may inflate their qualifications.[15]

An offshoot of ghost hunting is the commercial ghost tour conducted by a local guide or tour operator who is often a member of a local ghost hunting or paranormal investigation group. Since both tour operator and ‘haunted’ site owners share profits of such enterprises (admissions typically range between $50 and $100 per person), some believe the ‘haunted’ claims are exaggerated or fabricated in order to increase attendance.[16] The city of Savannah, GA is thought to be the #1 US city for “ghost tours” having more than three dozen at last count.[citation needed]


  1. Reality Check: Ghost Hunters and ‘Ghost Detectors’
  2. Investigative Files: Ghost Hunters (Skeptical Inquirer September/October 2006)
  3.| Washington Post Book World Review of Ghost Hunters
  4. “” Paranormal Groups,, accessed December 14, 2006
  5. Ghost hunters in search of the paranormal — JSCMS
  6. Scaring Up Paranormal Profits
  7. Smyth, Julie C (2007-08-21). “‘Spooky House’ case splits Ohio suburb”, USA Today. Retrieved on 2008-08-24.
  8. – Teen Shot While Ghost-Hunting Was Having Harmless Fun, Father Says – Local News | News Articles | National News | US News
  9. GhosthuntingTools
  10. Ghost hunters utilize latest in technology / Paranormal research has become a popular pursuit
  11. Ghost Research International
  12. Hobby, Research or Assistance ?
  13. Paranormal Ghost Research Indiana
  14. Instant Credentials?
  15. Confessions of a Ghost Tour Guide and Skeptic

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