By Darcy Lockman, published on May 1, 2003 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016
A young man awakens to find an apparition in his bed. A teenage
girl feels a presence in her uterus and senses the outline of a baby over
her left shoulder. Are these people seeing spirits?
Michael Persinger, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Laurentian
University in Ontario, Canada, suspects not. Persinger has demonstrated
that a sensitive temporal lobe-the area that is responsible for
regulation of emotions and motivated behaviors-together with naturally
occurring magnetic fields, can trigger a ghostly encounter. Indeed, the
couple in question had sensitive lobes and an electronically stocked
house, with magnetic activity that peaked nightly just when their
apparition materialized. The girl who thought she was pregnant had
suffered a brain injury as a child. In addition, her bed was surrounded
by a pulsed magnetic field, the result of a clock just a few inches from
"Individuals prone to paranormal experiences are sensitive to weak
electromagnetic fields and to man-made electrical fields, which are
becoming more prominent in the communication age," explains Persinger,
who has studied the link between magnetic fields and paranormal
experience for 15 years.
Initial experiments exposed the right hemisphere of subjects'
brains to magnetic fields, prompting subjects to posit a presence
interacting with their thoughts and moving in space as they focused on
it. So paranormal experiences during or just following stimulation of the
right hemisphere may be no more than the right half of the brain becoming
aware of the left.
Persinger could evoke the presence in many individuals, but it was
most common in subjects with temporal-lobe sensitivity. "People with
sensitive lobes have experiences resembling those of epileptics," says
Persinger. "Also, they're creative and sensitive to the electromagnetic
The most recent case studies were published in the Journal of
Neuropsychiatry. In our increasingly electronically charged world, it
would seem that midnight apparitions are really just clock radios rather