KIDS ASK! Can Scientists Study Ghosts?

Here at HTHT, we teach a LOT of science, and the best part about it is feeding young scientists’ curiosity about this amazing world we live in!  Although our programs are jam packed with experiments, we make time to let our young scientists ask us whatever questions they’ve always wanted to ask a scientist.   

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing a special series of articles answering some of the most frequent questions that come up from our young partners in science.  Our question this week is:


At HTHT, we work with all kinds of future scientists, from engineers to paleontologists. Encouraging kids on their path to a fulfilling life in science is what we do!  This week’s question comes from a young scientist who was thinking about an unusual path in science … the field of paranormal research, aka GHOST SCIENCE!  Can scientists study ghosts?  When they study them, what do they find?! 

Is it a ghost? No, this photo is scientifically proven to be fake!

Yes!  Scientists in the field of Paranormal Psychology can study people’s reports of ghosts, and travel to haunted places all over the world to investigate and research!  But… no scientist has ever found a real ghost, or studied one.  There is no scientific evidence of ghosts at all.  But at the same time, there is no scientific evidence that ghosts don’t exist, either.  If you are dreaming of becoming the first scientist to prove ghosts are real, here are some things for you to think about!

This was taken at the Jerome Grand Hotel, which people say is very haunted. See the shadowy black figure in the back left? Is it a ghost? No one has scientifically proven it is or it isn’t!
Photo credit:
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Maybe you like to watch those awesome “ghost hunting” shows where people have all kinds of expensive-looking instruments like infrared cameras and electromagnetic field detectors.  They go to haunted places and record things that sound like voices, or weird shapes in the darkness.  Aren’t they getting evidence of ghosts?  They have all those cool detectors and machines, after all!  Well science friends, the truth is that you can have all of the cool technology in the world.  But if you are not following the scientific method, you are not doing real science, and whatever you find is not considered scientifically true.

This is an Electromagnetic Field Meter, which scientists can use to detect invisible electricity, magnetic fields, and radio waves. Ghost hunting TV shows say it can also demonstrate when a ghost is near.
Photo credit:
Batanagar Paranormal Society
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Real-life scientific research has to follow the scientific method, which is a series of steps that ALL scientists, everywhere in the entire world, must use.  For something to be considered true and real, it absolutely has to be found using the scientific method.  One of the first and most important parts of the scientific method is that scientists have to be objective, which means they are not attached to looking for a certain result in their experiments.  All scientists know that if you are looking for a certain result, your mind will naturally look for it in all the experiments you do.  This means that you won’t find the scientific truth, you will find what you want to find!

Scientists who study ghost hauntings, called Paranormal Psychologists, have done a lot of research on how easy it is for your mind to trick you into believing something, if you really want to believe it. Especially when you are scared!

For example, let’s say you are an ocean scientist looking for a Mystery Shark that lives in the Mariana Trench.  No one has ever seen it, but you’ve heard many stories and you are sure it’s real.  If you are using the scientific method, you do not ask Can I find the Mystery Shark?  This means your brain will think every weird thing you see could be the Mystery Shark, and you will probably start believing you found it. If you are thinking like a scientist, you ask Is there any evidence that the Mystery Shark is real?  You can go and collect things you think are evidence. Then you can TEST your evidence, using scientific experiments.

Found the Mystery Shark!

Ghost hunters on TV aren’t objective.  Most of them are very interested in finding ghosts, so to them (and to you watching the show) any little sound or image on a camera could be a ghost!  Although these TV shows use scientific instruments, they are not using the scientific method.  If a scientist looks for ghosts and finds evidence of strange heat on their infrared night vision camera, they cannot go ahead and say it is evidence of a ghost.  They have to carefully investigate other possibilities first to prove that it is not something else!  The truth is that when scientists follow the rules of the scientific method to investigate a haunting, they usually find something else that explains it.  This means that there is no scientific evidence that ghosts are real, but there’s no evidence they aren’t real, either.  All that we know is that every time someone has shown evidence of ghosts, when it was tested carefully according to the scientific method, it was shown to be something else.

Usually hauntings can be explained by other things….but what?  Are there any hauntings that science absolutely CAN’T explain? Next week we’ll investigate creepy real life ghost stories and the real life scientists who study them! 


A great animated explanation of the scientific method and how science works:

A scientist of Paranormal Psychology explains why people see ghosts:

Ghost Hunting TV shows and why they are not exactly scientific:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.