Are ghosts real? A social psychologist examines the evidence
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Is it possible for there to be ghosts? – Madelyn, age 11, Fort Lupton, Colorado
Certainly, lots of people believe in ghosts – a spirit left behind after someone who was alive has died.
In a 2021 poll of 1,000 American adults, 41% said they believe in ghosts, and 20% said they had personally experienced them. If they’re right, that’s more than 50 million spirit encounters in the U.S. alone.
That includes the owner of a retail shop near my home who believes his place is haunted. When I asked what most convinced him of this, he sent me dozens of eerie security camera video clips. He also brought in ghost hunters who reinforced his suspicions.
Some of the videos show small orbs of light gliding around the room. In others, you can hear faint voices and loud bumping sounds when nobody’s there. Others show a book flying off a desk and products jumping off a shelf.
Along with others who practice scientific skepticism, I keep an open mind while maintaining that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Tell me you had a burger for lunch, and I’ll take your word for it. Tell me you shared your fries with Abraham Lincoln’s ghost, and I’ll want more evidence.
In the “spirit” of critical thinking, consider the following three questions:
Are ghosts possible?
People may think they’re experiencing ghosts when they hear strange voices, see moving objects, witness balls or wisps of light or even translucent people.
If that’s the case, that means when ghosts glow, move objects and make sounds, they are acting like matter – something that takes up space and has mass, like wood, water, plants and people. Conversely, when passing through walls or vanishing, they must not act like matter.