Scientists show that Ouija works! (Not)

Take a Break Fate and Fortune OuijaCanadian scientists have proven that Ouija boards have mysterious properties, according to Take a Break’s Fate and Fortune magazine of July 2014. In their “Spooky Science” section they reported that ‘Scientists investigating Ouija Boards have come up with some fascinating findings. Researchers at the University of British Columbia, Canada, sat two blindfolded participants down at a board and asked them to place their fingers on a glass. Unbeknown to one of them, their ‘partner’ was asked to silently leave the room. The remaining person was then asked a series of questions, which they’d previously been unable to answer. Strangely, when asked the questions again, they were able to answer them via the board. 

Student Ashwin Krishnamurthi, who took part said: ‘I thought the other person was trying to move the glass, but he wasn’t, because he’d actually left the room.’ Proof that Ouija messages really could be coming from the spirit world? We like to think so…’

Proof, more like, that Take a Break either didn’t read the study properly, or misinterpreted it so that it would please their readers who, by large, believe in ghosts, psyhics, crystal healing, witchcraft and other similar fringe beliefs. Have UBC really proven that Ouija boards communicate with ghosts? No… but their research suggests something even cooler…

A feature on the UBC research in the Smithsonian Magazine reveals what actually takes place in the study (as well as providing an interesting insight into Ouija), while the Inner Intel Project, run by the UBC Visual Cognition Lab describes the research on their website as follows:

Ouijas have long been advertised as a means to communicate with the supernatural, which may be an easy misconception. The movements ouijas make have been studied in the past by psychologists, and are classified scientifically as ideomotor movements. This is the phenomenon we investigate at the lab, in order to see whether a connection between these involuntary movements and our subconscious really does exist.

In the abstract of their published research the UBC researchers explained that they were studying whether ideomotor actions could help participants express non-conscious knowledge. The abstract goes on to explain:

Results show that when participants believed they knew the answer, responses in the two modalities were similar. But when they believed they were guessing, accuracy was at chance for volitional report (50%), but significantly higher for Ouija response (65%). These results indicate that implicit semantic memory can be expressed through ideomotor actions. They also suggest that this approach can provide an interesting new methodology for studying implicit processes in cognition.

The UBC research may be on the way to demonstrating that Ouija boards can provide insight into the unknown, it’s just not the unknown that Take a Break would have you believe. Ghosts are quite boring in comparison to what research like this may be showing about consciousness.

Suggested reading:

How People Are Fooled By Ideomotor Action, Ray Hyman
Science of Scams: Ouija Board, Derren Brown and Kat Akingbade

Take a Break photo: Laura Thomason


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.

12 Comments on Scientists show that Ouija works! (Not)

  1. I do wish the ‘pop’ media would look a bit deeper into these stories as the truth is often far more surprising and interesting than their headline grasping paragraph.

  2. So… scientists show that the unconscious and not the spirit world is responsible for Ouija messages… Gee, who woulda thunk. Disappointing though. Unless the spirit world is just a functional conceit for communique with ones own unconscious. Jung believed this, though after writing the Red Book, he thought perhaps some of these entities had consciousness beyond his own.

    • Researchers had shown long ago that it was the unconscious that made movements happen. This researched showed more than just that. I suggest visiting the links in the post to learn more.

  3. It seems that it takes some scientist to do research and claim that if it wasn’t for them or him/her, that the psychic, medium or healer has nothing to say, but only hot air coming from out of their mouths. *In other words, they take the credit for the grand discovery and leave the above mentioned out of the picture completely. What a joke.

    Since the scientist is skeptical of the paranormal (doubt of), whether we know something, or, even have any reason to believe it. Less often they deny that certain things exist,
    or that they could exist, even though they must claim to know negative propositions. A quick example: Space and Time suggests further questions about infinity. Is the universe finite or infinite? and which is ‘higher’ or more real, the finite or infinite? So, as like the question asked of Time and Space, too, the question can be asked, does Ouija work, through consciousness, or through discarnate spirit and which one is more plausible to the questioner for an answer given.

  4. A friend and I played with his ouija board one time in high school around 1971. I asked it who I would marry. It spelled out m a r c and here i thought it would finish with ia but it finished with ae. Exactly my first wife’s name. Marcae. At the time I knew no one with that name (but I met her in 1973 and she was my first wife for 23 years) so I asked again the same question. It spelled out Heidi and the Heidi I knew at the time I didn’t like. I almost married a Heidi in 2002. One more time I asked:: Kathy…who is now my current wife.
    Kathy told me she asked the ouija who was her true love and it spelled out my name, Barry.
    I haven’t asked it since 1971 but what if? Seems true the way it has come true for me, but I’m reluctant to ever ask it any more questions.

  5. Hayley, whatever you and the other critics can ever say about the Ouija is cherry picked strawmen.

    I rade Ouija logs. They were mostly incoherent strings of nonwords. But these were on one site, and one witness cannot contend with the hundreds of others who talk about their Ouija sessions, those that made words or were attendant with a poltergeist haunting.

    • I’m pretty sure you can’t actually strawman a ouija board… but if you’re suggesting that the presentation of research that demonstrates how idieomotor responses are what cause the planchette to move is somehow misrepresenting ouija boards then your beef is very much with those people who conducted that research.

      one witness cannot contend with the hundreds of others who talk about their Ouija sessions

      Personal testimony isn’t evidence. Period.

    • So if you had a similar personal experience with a Ouija board you would not believe it because it wasn’t evidence based?

    • I can’t speak for alysdexia, but I wanted to mention that I’ve had weird experiences with ouija boards back when I used to participate in more “spiritual” ghost hunting methodology, and I don’t believe that it was anything spiritual.

  6. Have any people ever done the Ouija in this way: they just ask questions but never ever touch the planchette; I seem to have read in the net about this manner of using the Ouija, and the events that take place consist in the planchette flying off, or movement of the table (this can be explained by the people in the exercise doing what scientists call the ideomotor movement of the human body on the table, whatever).

    I have to look up again the net of peoples using Ouija but never ever touching the planchette, and they record the messages whatever that got spelled out by the planchette moving on the board.

    Anyway, if any readers of this message have any such experience, please email me, pachomius2000(@) [remove the ( ) when you email me.

    About the ideomotor movement which is the unconscious mind causing the fingers to move the planchette. can scientists be more physically precise what in the mind’s unconscious and the nerves working, all the way to the fingers doing the moving of the planchette.

    It has always seemed to me that scientists or skeptics regularly invent a term to explain supposedly a phenomenon, but they have not actually given the physical causation process and trail of events making up the phenomenon.

    • Hi,

      There is actually research being done into what it is in our minds that makes them work this way. It’s written about in this actual blog post?

      Scientists, you see, are always looking to better improve their understanding of things whereas those who would rather just confirm their own biases ask weird questions like “has anyone ever done a ouija board without touching it and the planchette flew off?”

      It always seems to me that some people are just afraid to admit that they’re wrong and create an ulterior motive for those who are genuinely open minded – that’s pretty cynical of you.

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