6 Scientific Explanations for Ghosts

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A surprising number of people believe in ghosts. A 2017 survey by Chapman University found that 52 percent of Americans believe places can be haunted by spirits, an increase of approximately 11 percent since 2015. An earlier UK survey found that 52 percent of participants believed in the supernatural. But there may be a more scientific basis to things that go bump in the night than a restless afterlife.

Here are six logical explanations for that ghostly presence in your house.

1. ELECTROMAGNETIC FIELDS

For decades, a Canadian neuroscientist named Michael Persinger has been studying the effects of electromagnetic fields on people’s perceptions of ghosts, hypothesizing that pulsed magnetic fields, imperceptible on a conscious level, can make people feel as if there is a “presence” in the room with them by causing unusual activity patterns in the brain’s temporal lobes. Persinger has studied people in his lab wearing a so-called “God Helmet,” finding that certain patterns of weak magnetic fields over someone’s head for 15 to 30 minutes can create the perception that there’s an invisible presence in the room.

Some subsequent research has pushed back on this theory, arguing that people were responding to the suggestion that they would feel a ghostly presence, rather than to the electromagnetic field. However, Persinger counters that this experiment followed very different protocols than his own research [PDF]. Other scientists have also found that environments that have a reputation for being haunted often feature unusual magnetic fields.

2. INFRASOUND

Infrasound is sound at levels so low humans can’t hear it (though other animals, like elephants, can). Low frequency vibrations can cause distinct physiological discomfort. Scientists studying the effects of wind turbines and traffic noise near residences have found that low-frequency noise can cause disorientation [PDF], feelings of panic, changes in heart rate and blood pressure, and other effects that could easily be associated with being visited by a ghost [PDF]. For instance, in a 1998 paper on natural causes of hauntings [PDF], engineer Vic Tandy describes working for a medical equipment manufacturer, whose labs included a reportedly haunted room. Whenever Tandy worked in this particular lab, he felt depressed and uncomfortable, often hearing and seeing odd things—including an apparition that definitely looked like a ghost. Eventually, he discovered that the room was home to a 19 Hz standing wave coming from a fan, which was sending out the inaudible vibrations that caused the disorienting effects. Further studies also show links between infrasound and bizarre sensations like getting chills down the spine or feeling uneasy.

3. MOLD

Shane Rogers, an engineering professor at Clarkson University, has spent the past few months touring reportedly haunted locations looking for not-so-paranormal activity: mold growth. Preliminary research indicates that some molds can cause symptoms that sound pretty ghostly—like irrational fear and dementia. “I’ve watched a lot of ghost shows,” he tells Mental Floss. He began to wonder “if there’s some kind of link there, where we might be able to explain why people are having these feelings.” So far in the data collection process, “it’s hard to say whether that’s a contributing factor or not, but anecdotally we are seeing these [toxic molds] exist in places that are haunted," Rogers says.

4. CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING

In 1921, a doctor named W.H. Wilmer published an odd story about a haunted house in the American Journal of Ophthalmology. The family who lived in this haunted residence, called the H family in the medical literature, began experiencing weird phenomena when they moved into an old house—hearing furniture moving around and strange voices in the night, feeling the presence of invisible specters. They report being held down in bed by ghosts, feeling weak, and more. As it turned out, a faulty furnace was filling their house with carbon monoxide, causing aural and visual hallucinations. The furnace was fixed, and the H family went back to their lives, sans ghosts.

5. SOMEONE ELSE SAID IT WAS REAL.

In a 2014 study, Goldsmiths, University of London psychologists had participants watch a video of a “psychic” supposedly bending a metal key with his mind. In one condition, study subjects watched the video with a “participant” who was actually working with the researchers and professed to see the key bending. Those subjects were more likely to report that they saw the key bend than subjects who were paired with someone who asserted that the key didn’t bend or said nothing. “One person’s account can influence another person’s memory,” study co-author Christopher French tells Mental Floss. If someone else confidently asserts that they saw the ghost, it might influence a fellow eyewitness to believe they saw it, too.

6. WE WANT TO BELIEVE.

"There is a motivational side to belief in ghosts,” French explains. “We all want to believe in life after death. The idea of our mortality is one we are not generally comfortable with.” Confirmation bias holds powerful sway over our perceptions. “We find it much easier to believe evidence for something we want to believe anyway,” he says.

40 Offbeat Holidays to Celebrate in April

Get ready to celebrate Talk Like Shakespeare Day on April 23rd.
Get ready to celebrate Talk Like Shakespeare Day on April 23rd.
YaleShutter/iStock via Getty Images

Spring is in the air, as is the promise of several offbeat holidays—even if you don’t like pranks or chocolate bunnies. Here are 40 of them.

April 2: National Ferret Day

A ferret hanging out on a log
jhayes44/iStock via Getty Images

We'll definitely be celebrating these furry little guys.

April 2: International Children's Book Day

Celebrated since 1967, this holiday takes place on Hans Christian Andersen's birthday.

April 3: Tweed Day

Summer is coming, so dust off your favorite tweed clothing item and get in one last wear before it's crop top and linen season.

April 4: National Tell-A-Lie Day

Honesty is generally the best policy, according to one of our founding fathers. But today, you have carte blanche to fib your heart out.

April 4: International Pillow Fight Day

Have a pillow fight!

April 5: National Deep Dish Pizza Day

Deep fish pizza with candles in it
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A day to appreciate sky-high pies, or argue over the best pizza in all the land.

April 5: Read a Road Map Day

There was a time not so long ago when we had to consult large, folded pieces of paper to figure out directions from point A to point B. Thanks to GPS and Google Maps, this is now practically a holiday of antiquity. But you can’t use a Sharpie to draw a route on your smartphone, so score one for the road map.

April 6: Tartan Day

Show off your Scottish heritage, and grab your kilt while you're at it.

April 6: Sorry Charlie Day

This holiday was inspired by Charlie the Tuna—the cartoon mascot for StarKist and the subject of an advertising campaign that ran until the 1980s. In the spots, Charlie purports to have good taste, and wants to be recruited by the company, but is perpetually rejected via a sign on a fish hook that reads, "Sorry, Charlie." (As the narrator explains, they're interested in tuna that tastes good, not tuna with good taste.) The ads spawned a national catchphrase, and this holiday seeks to recognize all those who have lived through rejection and still retain their spunk.

April 7: International Beaver Day

Ferrets aren't the only small mammals we love here at Mental Floss: International Beaver Day will warrant its own party, too.

April 7: National Beer Day

A group of friends celebrating with beer
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On March 22, 1933, Franklin Roosevelt signed the Cullen–Harrison Act, legalizing the sale of beer (as long as it was 3.2 percent alcohol by weight or less) after many years of Prohibition. The thirsty public had to wait two long weeks before they could legally imbibe again, and on April 7, the law finally went into effect. Beer drinkers around the country rejoiced, and celebrated with a nice cold one, presumably.

April 10: National Siblings Day

Celebrate the brothers and sisters who drive you mad and keep you sane—often all at the same time.

April 11: Barbershop Quartet Day

Consider a musical ode to these fearsome foursomes on their special day of the year.

April 11: International “Louie Louie” Day

"Louie Louie" is, by some accounts, the most recorded rock song in history. (The most famous version was recorded by The Kingsmen in 1963.) This year, celebrate this offbeat holiday by finally figuring out the lyrics.

April 12: National Licorice Day

A pile of black and red licorice
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This offbeat holiday—designed to celebrate black licorice specifically—will surely be a contentious commemoration. For those of you who cringed, please enjoy your Twizzlers.

April 12: Drop Everything and Read Day

Also known as D.E.A.R. Day, this holiday encourages you to abandon all prior commitments for the comfort of a good book. It also coincides with the birthday of children’s book author Beverly Cleary, who is a spokesperson for the event. Though marketed toward children, the celebration is open to everyone.

April 12: Walk On Your Wild Side Day

Whatever “wild” means to you, today's the day to do it.

April 13: National Scrabble Day

A Scrabble game board
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Created by Alfred Mosher Butts in 1938, Scrabble did not become a national phenomenon until the 1950s. It has since inspired less mobility-impaired games like Bananagrams and Words With Friends. But to honor the holiday, use a classic board and show off your robust vocabulary.

April 13: Dyngus Day

According to Buffalo’s official holiday website, “Historically a Polish-American tradition, Dyngus Day celebrates the end of the often restrictive observance of Lent and the joy of Easter.” Some celebratory activities include men chasing around women to drench them with water, and hitting them with pussy willow branches. So basically, Dyngus Day is spring break.

April 14: National Reach as High as You Can Day

National Reach as High as You Can Day is really about grounding yourself in reality. Don’t reach for the stars if you can’t actually touch them—know your limitations. Set attainable goals, and take pleasure in being just good enough.

April 15: National That Sucks Day

It's Tax Day and the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, so yeah, kind of sucky.

April 16: National Stress Awareness Day

Stressed out young woman pulling her hair out in front of a yellow background
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Founded on the very cute notion that you are not aware of your stress.

April 16: National High Five Day

Make 'em count today, and don't forget to keep an eye on the elbow.

April 17: National Haiku Poetry Day

Celebrate with your
Own haiku that is likely
Much better than mine.

April 19: National Hanging Out Day

Sadly, this is not a day to kick back and relax with some friends. Rather, it's a holiday encouraging people to hang out their laundry—and cut down on energy consumption by doing so.

April 20: Lima Bean Respect Day

Much like Rodney Dangerfield, the lima bean doesn’t get any respect. Well not today! Did you know lima beans are an excellent source of fiber? They also help balance your blood sugar and lower cholesterol. So give this bean a break and try extolling its more admirable qualities for the day.

April 21: National Library Workers Day

A day to honor the hardworking shushers and Dewey Decimal devotees who help us all on our reading journeys.

April 21: National Bulldogs Are Beautiful Day

A pair of bulldogs pose for a portrait
iStock.com/Luka Lajst

If you didn't already know this, you can see yourself out.

April 22: National Jelly Bean Day

When you grab a handful to celebrate this year, just make sure you don't get "BeanBoozled."

April 23: Talk Like Shakespeare Day

We have of late, but wherefore we know not, lost all our mirth. What a perfect day to get it back! In honor of the Bard’s birthday, drop some thous and thees, master iambic pentameter, and cast people away by exclaiming “get thee to a nunnery!” Talk Like Shakespeare Day is the one time of year you can express yourself in rhyming couplets; wethinks thou oughtest useth the opportunity.

April 23: World Book Night

On Shakespeare's birthday passionate volunteers hand out books in the U.S., U.K., Ireland and Germany.

April 24: National Hairball Awareness Day

Don't become a statistic.

April 25: World Penguin Day

Antarctica gentoo penguins fighting
iStock.com/Grafissimo

Seriously, all the animal holidays are fine with us.

April 25: International DNA Day

Unlike many holidays in the Offbeat Family, DNA Day has formal U.S. Congressional recognition. On this day in 1953, scientists first published papers in Nature on the structural makeup of DNA [PDF]. In 2003, the Human Genome Project was declared to be nearly complete; the National Human Genome Research Institute has since developed activities and celebrations to honor the holiday.

April 25: National Go Birding Day

Build bird feeders, bring your binoculars for a walk in the woods, or, if you live in the city, take a little extra time to notice all the pigeons.

April 26: Hug An Australian Day

It does not say they have to be human. Also: Learn some Australian slang while you’re at it.

April 26: National Pretzel Day

The beer is optional.

April 27: Morse Code Day

Wartime Morse Code Communications
iStock.com/cjp

Break out your best dots and dashes, it’s the birthday of Samuel Morse—co-inventor of the eponymous Morse Code. These days any Joe Schmoe can try his hand at transmitting lights, clicks, and tones to send a secret message. But this system of communication used to be a highly specialized field that required a license and a proclivity for spying on communists.

April 30: National Honesty Day

Remember when you celebrated National Tell-A-Lie Day a few weeks ago? Today, do the opposite.

April 30: International Jazz Day

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is responsible for this holiday. Schools, communities, and even government organizations around the world will host programs to highlight the diplomatic role of jazz in bringing people together.

America’s 10 Most Hated Easter Candies

Peeps are all out of cluck when it comes to confectionery popularity contests.
Peeps are all out of cluck when it comes to confectionery popularity contests.
William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Whether you celebrate Easter as a religious holiday or not, it’s an opportune time to welcome the sunny, flora-filled season of spring with a basket or two of your favorite candy. And when it comes to deciding which Easter-themed confections belong in that basket, people have pretty strong opinions.

This year, CandyStore.com surveyed more than 19,000 customers to find out which sugary treats are widely considered the worst. If you’re a traditionalist, this may come as a shock: Cadbury Creme Eggs, Peeps, and solid chocolate bunnies are the top three on the list, and generic jelly beans landed in the ninth spot. While Peeps have long been polarizing, it’s a little surprising that the other three classics have so few supporters. Based on some comments left by participants, it seems like people are just really particular about the distinctions between certain types of candy.

Generic jelly beans, for example, were deemed old and bland, but people adore gourmet jelly beans, which were the fifth most popular Easter candy. Similarly, people thought Cadbury Creme Eggs were messy and low-quality, while Cadbury Mini Eggs—which topped the list of best candies—were considered inexplicably delicious and even “addictive.” And many candy lovers prefer hollow chocolate bunnies to solid ones, which people explained were simply “too much.” One participant even likened solid bunnies to bricks.

candystore.com's worst easter candies
The pretty pastel shades of bunny corn don't seem to be fooling the large contingent of candy corn haters.
CandyStore.com

If there’s one undeniable takeaway from the list of worst candies, it’s that a large portion of the population isn’t keen on chewy marshmallow treats in general. The eighth spot went to Hot Tamales Peeps, and Brach’s Marshmallow Chicks & Rabbits—which one person christened “the zombie bunny catacomb statue candy”—sits at number six.

Take a look at the full list below, and read more enlightening (and entertaining) survey comments here.

  1. Cadbury Creme Eggs
  1. Peeps
  1. Solid chocolate bunnies
  1. Bunny Corn
  1. Marshmallow Chicks & Rabbits
  1. Chocolate crosses
  1. Twix Eggs
  1. Hot Tamales Peeps
  1. Generic jelly beans
  1. Fluffy Stuff Cotton Tails

[h/t CandyStore.com]

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