Despite huge advances in science and technology, more than 11 million adult Britons claim to have experienced a ghost, according to a newly-released opinion poll commissioned by Professor Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire, and widely featured in the media during recent days.
The extensive coverage was fuelled by a Press Association report, replete with a ghost map of Britain, which was reproduced by the Daily Mail whose story-line was that ‘ghosts are busting out all over Britain’.
The survey concerned was conducted online by YouGov between 1 and 3 February 2011 among a representative sample of 2,040 Britons aged 18 and over. The data tables are available at:
Asked whether they had ever experienced a ghost, 10% of respondents claimed that they had definitely done so and 15% that they had probably had a ghostly encounter. 19% were uncertain, while 57% said that they had probably not (18%) or definitely not (39%) experienced a ghost.
The mean proportion of one-quarter who had definitely or probably experienced a ghost did not vary hugely by demographic sub-groups, but it did reach 31% among the widowed and 30% with women and residents of Yorkshire and the Humber and the East Midlands.
Similarly, the number stating that they had definitely or probably not seen a ghost was above the average for full-time students (70%), men (65%), 18-24s (63%), the never married (61%) and Londoners (61%).
The publicity surrounding the poll suggested that claimed ghost-sightings have doubled in the past twenty years. BRIN’s own trend data – http://www.brin.ac.uk/figures/#ChangingBelief – confirm that belief in and reported encounters with ghosts have drifted upwards over time, although the grey line between definite and possible sightings does introduce an element of statistical ambiguity.
The current YouGov poll is broadly in line with the Hereafter Report, published two months ago, which found 22% claiming to have seen a ghost or to have felt the presence of a spirit. See http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=848
Wiseman himself professes to be ‘extremely sceptical about the existence of ghosts’. He is quoted in the media as inclining to attribute increased sightings to the influence of television ghost shows, such as Most Haunted and Ghost Hunters, rather than to genuine psychic activity. He also cites as a possible contributory cause the decline in traditional religious beliefs.
In his brand new book from Macmillan, Paranormality: why we see what isn’t there, Wiseman argues that ghostly experiences can be traced to a variety of factors, including suggestion, light effects, low-frequency sound, waking dreams, and anxiety. A particular phenomenon is the state of ‘hypervigilance’ felt by people who visit locations reputed to be haunted.