According to psychologists, ghosts are the mind’s way of interpreting how the body reacts to certain surroundings. A chill in the air, low-light conditions and magnetic fields have long been associated with hauntings. Now researchers think these things may be what “create” ghosts, by triggering feelings that “a presence” is in a room.

Dr. Richard Wiseman worked with hundreds of volunteers in two of the U.K.’s most haunted locations?Hampton Court Palace in England, and the South Bridge Vaults in Edinburgh, Scotland. Hampton court is said to be haunted by the ghost of the executed Catherine Howard, the 5th wife of Henry VIII. People from different cultures have consistently reported similar experiences over hundreds of years in these places. Volunteers were asked to record any unusual experiences they had there, such as hearing footsteps, feeling cold or sensing a presence in the room.

The volunteers didn’t know which parts of these places were haunted. Wiseman found that the volunteers actually did record a higher number of unusual experiences in the places in Hampton Court that are supposed to be have ghosts, such as the Georgian rooms and the Haunted Gallery.

The same experiment was conducted in Edinburgh and the results were the same: the areas considered to be haunted were where the most unusual encounters occurred. The researchers say this is evidence that hauntings are a real phenomenon, because they are concentrated in specific places over time. But they don’t believe the experiences are caused by ghosts. “Hauntings exist, in the sense that places exist where people reliably have unusual experiences,” says Wiseman. “The existence of ghosts is a way of explaining these experiences.”

So hauntings are real but ghosts aren’t? “People do have consistent experiences in consistent places, but I think that this is driven by visual factors mainly, and perhaps some other environmental cues,” Wiseman says.

Wiseman thinks that people are responding unconsciously to environmental cues and the general “spookiness” of their surroundings. This may also be why mediums can tell which parts of a building are haunted, with no prior knowledge of them.

Skeptics says ghostly encounters are influenced by a person’s knowledge of the place, but Wiseman proved this isn’t true, since his experiments showed that prior knowledge did not affect the areas in which strange experiences were recorded. “We found little if no evidence that people’s prior knowledge mattered,” he says. “If anything, it made them veer away from having experiences in the known haunted sites.”

If you dig down deep, you’ll find that many myths are real.

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