How do people ‘hear the dead’? Researchers reveal why some have ‘sixth sense’

DURHAM, United Kingdom — Is that strange noise at night simply the wind, or is there a spirit trying to talk with you? While most people will go their entire lives without an encounter with the paranormal, a new study finds some individuals are more prone to “hearing the dead.” Researchers from Durham University say Spiritualist mediums or others who can hear ghostly voices are more likely to engage in immersive mental activities and hear strange sounds early in life compared to someone without a “sixth sense.”

Study authors say their findings reveal why some people insist they can hear the voices of dead souls and eventually turn to spiritualist beliefs. Spiritualism is a religious movement which centers around the belief that a human soul still exists after death. These souls can even keep communicating with the living world; giving rise to the modern day interest in mediums and psychics.

Fox Sisters
The Fox sisters: Kate (1838-92), Leah (1814-90) and Margaret (or Maggie) (1836-93). Lithograph after a daguerreotype by Appleby. Published by N. Currier, New York. In 1848, two sisters from upstate New York, Maggie and Kate Fox, reported hearing ‘rappings’ and ‘knocks’ that they interpreted as communication coming from a spirit in their house. These events and these sisters would eventually be considered the originators of Spiritualism. (Credit: N. Currier, New York)

Mediums who say they hear these voices are experiencing clairaudient communications, according to researchers. This differs from the more common phrase clairvoyant (seeing) and clairsentient (feeling and sensing) ghostly presences.

Hearing the dead is all about absorption

Researchers surveyed 65 clairaudient mediums from the Spiritualists’ National Union and 143 ordinary people to examine this phenomenon. The results reveal that spiritualists have a strong link to absorption — a deep involvement in mental or imaginative activities or experiencing altered states of consciousness.

The study also finds mediums are more likely to hear voices or other strange sounds early in life. Researchers also compared the participant’s levels of hallucination-proneness, aspects of identity, and belief in the paranormal.

The survey finds nearly half (44.6%) of spiritualist participants say they hear the dead on a daily basis. Another 33.8 percent had a clairaudient experience within one day of the survey. Nearly four in five add clairaudient experiences are part of their daily lives.

As for where this communication is taking place, 65 percent of mediums say spirits communicate with them “inside the head.” However, one in three spiritualists report having a ghostly experience both inside and outside of their head. The average spiritualist starts hearing voices at age 21. Compared with respondents from the general population, a spiritualist scores much higher on tests for absorption.

Not bothered by peer-pressure

Perhaps some of the ability to hear strange signals from the great beyond has a connection to our own self-confidence. Study authors find mediums in the survey are much less likely to be concerned with the opinion of others.

Along with not giving in to social pressures, spiritualists also express more desire to learn why they’re hearing these voices and have a higher belief in the paranormal than most people.

“Our findings say a lot about ‘learning and yearning’. For our participants, the tenets of Spiritualism seem to make sense of both extraordinary childhood experiences as well as the frequent auditory phenomena they experience as practicing mediums,” lead researcher Dr. Adam Powell says in a media release. “But all of those experiences may result more from having certain tendencies or early abilities than from simply believing in the possibility of contacting the dead if one tries hard enough.”

“Spiritualists tend to report unusual auditory experiences which are positive, start early in life and which they are often then able to control. Understanding how these develop is important because it could help us understand more about distressing or non-controllable experiences of hearing voices too,” Dr. Peter Moseley from Northumbria University adds.

The study appears in the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture.