Ghost Hunters vs. Paranormal Investigators

Confirmation bias, according to its Wikipedia entry, is ‘the tendency to search for, interpret, or recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses’ and we’re all prone to this bias even when we think we’re not. In fact I think it’s fair to say that we’re really good at thinking we’re not biased when we actually are. This is why scientists introduce controls to their studies and get their peers to review and replicate their research to ensure that their results are not biased or flawed.

Being aware of confirmation bias is what I believe separates paranormal investigators from ghost hunters. This isn’t to say that being aware of confirmation bias means that your outcomes won’t be influenced by it, but attempting to keep your personal biases in check is always a good start which is why ghost hunters doom themselves to a future of agreeing with themselves and patting themselves on the back for proving themselves right via the use of pseudo-scientific apparatus or outdated and debunked spiritualist methods. An investigator should ask their colleagues their opinions of their findings and should consider constructive criticism. A ghost hunter will often take constructive criticism personally and (in my experience) will lash out in retaliation.

Anyone can call themselves a paranormal investigator or a ghost hunter and apply their own definitions to the terms. I’ve been known to use this phrase “ghost hunter” to describe myself in the past despite not actively looking to find ghosts and identifying more as a paranormal investigator or paranormal researcher. However, these are just words – what really sets us all apart are our methodologies.

A ghost hunter is someone who literally hunts or searches for ghosts and doesn’t seem to realise (or care) that this means they are using a completely biased methodology because they use tools and methods that assist in their quest to prove that they are encountering a ghost. An investigator or researcher is someone who spends their time investigating and… you guessed it, researching the case a bit further to establish the bigger picture in the hope that this will reveal the cause for what is being experienced and reported.

In order to do this effectively an investigator/researcher may spend a lot of time visiting the location, comparing data to build a complete set (e.g. the normal temperature fluctuations over the course of time in a room) and to observe patterns as/if they emerge (e.g. activity seems to increase when a certain person is present and whipping people’s expectations up). This isn’t always true though, there have been cases that I’ve managed to solve by simply speaking to people other than those who insist a location is haunted, or by visiting the location unexpectedly. Sometimes a few hours spent online looking in the right places will give you a lead, or perhaps an afternoon in the local reference library.

A ghost hunter will typically spend a day (or less) at the location and presume their data is complete after only a few hours worth of readings to compare against. They’ll present the history of the location as relevant and they’ll probably use a medium or a psychic. You can often tell you’re dealing with a ghost hunter because they’ll conduct their “research” at night-time and in the dark even if the reported activity occurred during the daytime or with the lights on.

Something odd will happen and a paranormal investigator will ask “Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?” whereas a ghost hunter will say “that’s weird, and it’s probably a ghost or evidence of something supernatural.” Ghost hunters will often be vague with the claims they make because they’re somewhat aware that they can’t prove anything scientifically because they rely on gut feeling whereas a paranormal investigator will question themselves as much as you question them and will welcome alternative opinions about their conclusions.

Methodologies used usually reflect the reason somebody becomes involved in ghost research or ghost hunting in the first place, but one has to wonder how proving your biases to be correct over and over again is a beneficial use of time and resources. Not forgetting those paranormal event companies who pretend to be honest researchers but rely on positive results for their events to stay relevant. If the only people that were being fooled were themselves I wouldn’t take issue with such irrational approaches but as anyone who follows this blog or has seen me speak in public will know, sloppy methodologies harm more people than you could imagine and should always be questioned.

About Hayley Stevens 448 Articles
Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

4 Comments on Ghost Hunters vs. Paranormal Investigators

  1. Ghost hunters and paranormal investigators are the same thing!!

    I get what you mean about confirmation bias, this is the main problem with so-called skeptics, they already disbelieve in anything and everything, so when someone presents them with, say, a photo of a ghost, they say: “There is no evidence for a ghost, ergo, it cannot be a ghost” confirmation bias to the core…classic.

    As for spending time on location, not a valid point, ghosts are not around us all the time, each apparition’s manifestation is a unique event, so whether you stand and watch for six months or 6 minutes, the event is the same -the person watching for six months, sees the same thing someone who just been there 6 minutes.

    Also, most paranormal investigators/ghost hunters are part-time and can’t afford to spend months in a vigil; unless you are saying don’t bother investigating at all, how we going to prove the existence of an afterlife if no one is looking for it?

    By looking we may find the Loch Ness monster or even Bigfoot, unless serendipity intercedes…no one was looking for the coelocanthe and it was thought extinct…if people were looking for it, maybe we’d have discovered it sooner, don’t you think?

    I know some people have a downer about paranormal investigators, because they don’t have the skills and experience of real ghost hunters, but we all on the same side…really… proving ghosts.

    I’ll drink to that.

    • No Kephan, we are not on the same side. You are biased. You also seem to dislike anyone who questions anything and so you’re pretty irrational too. You won’t agree with me and that’s fine.

      You ask how we’re going to prove the existence of an afterlife is nobody is looking for it and that clearly shows that you either didn’t read the post or didn’t take it in properly because that’s a completely biased approach.

  2. I have only just found this site but felt compelled to reply to this post.
    I class myself as a paranormal investigator let me explain what this means to me. Firstly it is keeping an open mind, ok this does not mean that all things are paranormal, debunking as it is known it the most important part of any investigation but it is just as important to say that your explanation is only one possible rationale for what is seen or caught by equipment.
    On the use of equipment there is no actual evidence to say that ghosts/spirits do not affect equipment just as there is no evidence to say they do but it is important to test for repetition but remember like most things there may be one or more reasons.
    The key thing that a paranormal investigator needs is an open mind, unfortunately the majority of skeptics have a closed mind to the paranormal.
    The term ‘Ghost Hunter’ really annoys me after all as you correctly say these people already have decided that a location is haunted, the opposite end of the spectrum to the hardened skeptic with the true paranormal investigator taking the centre ground

    • Dave, there is evidence that the readings on equipment used is caused by other things. You can’t prove a negative (e.g. that a device doesn’t detect ghosts) because the lack of evidence that they do detect ghosts is lacking. You cannot prove a negative.

      You also seem to not understand what skepticism is. If someone has a closed mind then they are not practising skepticism which, by its very definition requires an open mind. Skepticism has nothing to do with belief as both believers and none-believers should use skepticism.

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