The Psychology of Poltergeists and the Nocebo Effect of Haunted Objects


When paranormal investigators explore a haunted site, usually what is discovered are disembodied voices, full-body apparitions, unidentified footsteps, shadow figures or unexplained equipment disturbances. In rare cases some members may be physically attacked – perhaps being touched, scratched or pushed. In more severe instances poltergeist activity may manifest itself as objects may be moved or even thrown.

From a paranormal perspective, poltergeist activity can be scary and completely unexplainable. From a scientific point of view, RSPK is still not able to be fully explained – but there have been some interesting discoveries.

Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis (RSPK) is the technical term given to poltergeist activity. It has been researched in great detail since the 1960’s and the findings are quite fascinating. In a primer written by Bryan Williams and Annalisa Ventola, the authors approach the phenomenon of poltergeists from a parapsychological perspective with the intent of informing paranormal enthusiasts. Six case studies are performed in locations all over the world – specifically Miami, Florida; the country of Bavaria; Druten, Turkey; New England, USA; a haunted restaurant in Japan; and a horrible murder case in Columbus, Ohio. If you are interested in reading the 30-page primer you can access it at this website –

In each of these uniquely bizarre incidents objects of all sizes, shapes, and weights were moved through psychokinesis. The scientific explanations as to how exactly this was performed still remains elusive. They were, however, able to make certain conclusions:

  • Epilepsy, seizuring, and dissociative states do seem to play a significant part in many poltergeist episodes. Normally these symptoms will peak during the stages of adolescents and teenagers who have been diagnosed with central nervous system disturbances.
  • Psychological situations tied to emotion are perhaps the biggest determinants of RSPK, as children (and some adults) are often confused and may not have good regulation control:

“In general, we find hostility in the [child] which cannot be expressed in normal ways, the main target for the anger being people with whom he [or she] is associated on a daily basis…. [O]bjects tend to move toward the rooms belonging to the person who is the focus of the [child’s] anger.”  – William Roll

  • Here is the most fascinating aspect of these case studies (in my opinion, of course!):

 9103297092_3a7f62f27f_z“Another finding is a possible relationship between RSPK and the activity of the Earth’s magnetic field. Preliminary surveys in which the occurrence of RSPK was compared with recorded magnetic indices indicate that [poltergeist activity] tends to coincide with increases in geomagnetic activity…. Such increases in geomagnetic activity often result from disturbances produced by variations in the solar wind (due to solar flares associated with sunspots, mass coronal ejections and similar stellar phenomena) that interact with the magnetosphere surrounding the Earth.” (p.25)

I have presented this scientific evidence to reveal the fact that poltergeist activity can be a function of the human mind, albeit very unusual and defying complete explanation. Our brains are capable of far more than we may realize. Consider this experiment and try it on your own (as perhaps many of you already may have):

The next time you see someone walking at a distance who does not see you, stare at them intently. You will find that nearly every single time the person will deliberately stop and look in your direction. This can be done from windows, at heights above the person, and in crowds. Now don’t misunderstand me – I am not promoting that you go around stalking people. My point behind this mental task is that it represents a phenomenon that could be considered paranormal in nature, but it is not. Some things are just not what they seem.


In recent news, police officers in Lanarkshire, Scotland have been called to a house where loud disturbances were reported. Lights going off and on, clothes being thrown, and a levitating Chihuahua dog have been observed by officers who have been on the force for 20 years. They are baffled by what they have observed.

A “woman and [a] teenager, described as extremely distressed, had been experiencing violent and unexplained circumstances and in desperation contacted police,” according to the UK’s Daily Record. Investigators are researching the property for any explanations as to its history, but it is interesting to note that a teenager does live on the premises. I am certainly not saying that he or she is the cause of the poltergeist activity – I cannot know this information. However, I am presenting this article to you to give you a context for understanding both poltergiest and potential PRSK activity. It is for you to decide what you believe.

If you have never had an opportunity to check out Flipboard Magazine, I encourage you to do so. You can access the Daily Record full article through their free website here:

The Nocebo Effect

This phenomenon is a sort of evil brother to another effect everyone should be familiar with – the placebo. There have been countless studies performed by doctors and laypeople alike that have shown that the power of positive thinking produces measurable health benefits. Interestingly, the transverse is also true:

“[T]he nocebo effect…[uses] dummy pills and negative expectations… [to] produce harmful effects. The term ‘nocebo,’ which means ‘I will harm,’ was not coined until the 1960s, and the phenomenon has been far less studied than the placebo effect. It’s not easy, after all, to get ethical approval for studies designed to make people feel worse.” – Helen Pilcher

One of the best examples of the Nocebo Effect can be found with Voodoo curses. If you have ever traveled to Haiti or educated yourself on the Voodoo practices there, you know that the ceremonies they perform are serious business. Even African slaves brought here to America back in the slave-trading days were familiar with the power of Voodoo. It has been documented that many of them turned to Voodoo curses in an effort to get back at their masters. Furthermore, within the status quo of the United States and in many socities throughout the world, there is a fearful stigma attached to Voodoo practices and their curses.

Helen Pilcher relates one of these stories in the context of the Nocebo Effect:  

“Late one night in a small Alabama cemetery, Vance Vanders had a run-in with the local witch doctor, who wafted a bottle of unpleasant-smelling liquid in front of his face, and told him he was about to die and that no one could save him. Back home, Vanders took to his bed and began to deteriorate. Some weeks later, emaciated and near death, he was admitted to the local hospital, where doctors were unable to find a cause for his symptoms or slow his decline. Only then did his wife tell one of the doctors…of the hex.”

Understanding the power of the mind can be a very complex issue. There is the consideration that as we get older that we want to do things our bodies cannot. Here is where the saying comes in that “the mind is willing, but the body is weak.” Despite this fact, though, there is definitely good credibility in regards to both the placebo and nocebo effects. In Pilcher’s article, she elaborates further:

“The ultimate cause of the nocebo effect, however, is not neurochemistry but belief…. [S]urgeons are often wary of operating on people who think they will die – because such patients often do. And the mere belief that one is susceptible to a heart attack is itself a risk factor. One study found that women who believed they are particularly prone to heart attack are nearly four times as likely to die from coronary conditions than other women with the same risk factors.”

Haunted Objects

At the Haunted America Conference in Alton, Illinois this past June I had the opportunity to meet Greg and Dana Newkirk – the owners of The Traveling Musuem of the Paranormal and the Occult. You can check them out at:

Through their work (and Nick Groff, formerly of Ghost Adventures), I came across the Idol of Nightmares – which has some amazing claims that anyone who has touched this wooden doll has had horrible things happen to them. It was discovered in a basement crawl space in Dayton, Ohio and, once the burlap sack was removed off of it, gave the owner’s son horrible nightmares. This figure has been touched by several people and it will consistently appear in dreams.  It is blamed to be responsible for car accidents and other traumatic events. I will be posting a paranormal perspective on this haunted object on my sister site Paranormal Insights. (


When you look at the doll, it clearly has the insinuations that its roots may be in Voodoo. Could it be possible that this haunted object may simply be a catalyst for the Nocebo Effect within the mind? The reported activity of this figure has reached many different people from many walks of life and so this could be a stretch in reasoning. But think further – might it be possible that whoever created The Idol of Nightmares designed it knowing that its physical appearance would warrant spooky, paranormal responses? Following this line of reasoning and, as it has been presented in the Vance Vanders case, these haunted objects were designed with the Nocebo Effect in mind. That is what gives the relic its power – the human brain.

What do you think?

I encourage you to offer up your thoughts in the comment box below or whatever social media site you may find this article!