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Home > Research Articles > Psychology Says Belief In Ghosts Could Be Related To Belief In God

The New York Times News Service

Friday, November 8, 2002

November 6, 2002

(The New York Times News Service) -- If he trusts you, and if you press him, Jeff Ossenkop will tell you about the first time he saw a ghost.

It happened at his family's farmhouse in Stephenville when he was 10 years old. It was late, everyone else was asleep, and he was heading to the bathroom. On his way, he saw a blond-haired boy standing at the foot of his aunt's bed. He thought it was his cousin.

"The next morning I said to my aunt, `Did you know that Darren was up at 2 in the morning standing by your bed?' " the 20-year-old Colleyville man said. "She looked at me really weird and said, `Honey, Darren's not here.' "

He usually keeps the story to himself, he says, because he is afraid people will think he's crazy.

Now, just in time for Halloween, psychological researchers at the University of North Texas in Denton are recruiting people like Ossenkop who have seen ghosts, goblins or little green men for a study that might seem more likely to come from Stephen King than Sigmund Freud.

"We're not looking to validate or invalidate anyone's experiences," said Felicia Reynolds, who is leading the study as part of her doctoral thesis for UNT's psychology

department. Instead, the study will measure cognitive abilities such as attention span and memory in people who report a range of unexplained phenomena, she said.

"We have people who believe they have seen UFOs, some who see auras around people, some who have psychic experiences, some people have seen ghosts or believe their house is haunted," she said.

April Ozuna said she is considering signing up for the study. The 29-year-old Hurst woman said she has seen two ghosts, the last time at a friend's house about a year ago.

"I was laying down in the middle of the day, wasn't drinking, nothing like that," she said. "My friend was in the bathtub, and I saw someone walk through the hall in this house. I thought, `Oh, it's my friend.' But it wasn't. And I saw it clear as day. All I could see was her back, but I saw that she had brown hair and a white shirt. Later, my friend said, `Yeah, I know, that's our ghost.' "

Ozuna, who describes herself as a skeptic, is studying education at Tarrant County College Northeast Campus in Hurst. She also teaches Sunday school and said her ghostly encounters have deepened her religious faith.

"A lot of Christians would say it's demonic or something, but I don't think it is. For me, it just confirms the fact that we are spiritual beings," she said.

In some ways, a belief in God probably is closely related to a belief in ghosts or Martians, said Dr. Craig Neumann, an assistant professor of psychology at UNT.

"Some people have argued that this openness to paranormal experiences helps us to feel more spiritual or religious, and this might be a common part of all of us," he said.

Too often, people like Ossenkop and Ozuna are seen as eccentric not because they believe in things they can't prove - most everyone does that - but because society doesn't accept the unprovable things in which they believe, Neumann said.

"If these people don't have distress and they don't have impairment, why not just call it a unique belief?" he asked.

The study - recruiting began in August - is expected to last through next summer. After hearing more than a dozen stories about unexplained phenomena, Reynolds said she has not decided whether she believes them.

Ozuna, though, has and doesn't care who knows it.

"Look, the two times I've seen things, there were other people there who saw them, too," she said. "Honestly, I don't care if anybody thinks I'm crazy. I know what I know."

Studying paranormal phenomena

Researchers in the University of North Texas psychology department are conducting a study on the relationship between mental abilities and paranormal experiences, and they are seeking people who report two or more of the following:

Encountering a UFO or ghost or having psychic abilities

Sensing smells, sounds or objects that others cannot

Regularly feeling uncomfortable around others

Finding hidden messages on television or in movies

Candidates must not have a history of head injury, drug use or neurological disease. For information, call Felicia Reynolds at (972) 365-4580 or Craig Neumann at (940) 565-3788.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times News Service. All rights reserved.