PSICAN - Paranormal Studies and Inquiry Canada

Ghosts, Hauntings & Related Phenomena

Written by Ben Grant
EVP recordings have come under heavy fire recently, to a point where some paranormal investigators have even considered parting company with digital recorders.  In his recent article, EVP... The New Orb Photo, paranormal researcher, Martin J. Clemens says of EVPs, “I’ve become uncomfortable with this phenomenon, I shy away from the evidence and I look accusingly at those who tout its efficacy” (Clemens, 2009).  So, are EVP recordings going the way of the orb photo?

    The short answer is no.  To be honest, I can’t believe how popular orb photos once were among many paranormal research groups.  My own experience with orb photos was thrilling, but the excitement was short lived.  In 2003 I took a picture of my wife at a reportedly haunted church in Ireland at night, and when I looked at it on the tiny screen, there was a big shiny orb right next to her head.  I had heard a lot of talk about orbs, and I believed at that moment that I had captured a picture of something supernatural.  But I was also a bit suspicious, never having taken a picture at night before.  On the way back to the hotel, I took 388 pictures of various things.  When I reviewed them, most of them were clear, but sure enough, some of them contained orbs.  Yes, that’s right there were ghosts on the sidewalk, in the park, on the soccer field, in the parking lot, and hanging out next to the bellhop.  I decided that night that my snapshot at the church was probably nothing more than a picture of my wife standing next to a very photogenic speck of dust.  I’m not suggesting that there’s no such thing as a “ghostly” orb, but there are too many naturally-occurring explanations for an orb photo to be considered as evidence of the paranormal.  Orb photos, once considered to be indisputable evidence of ghostly activity, are now immediately dismissed by credible paranormal investigators.  To an extent, EVP recordings have also experienced a fall from grace, but they will never be reduced to the status of the lowly orb photo.

    In the field of paranormal research the introduction of new techniques by which to capture evidence of ghosts is often greeted with scepticism.  The reason for the scepticism is due to the fact that there have been a number of individuals looking to profit from their alleged ability to contact ghosts. However, EVP recordings looked promising from the very beginning. It must have been refreshing for paranormal enthusiasts in mid-twentieth century to have this innovation brought forward by two Italian priests and a budding Swedish ornithologist.  Father Ernetti and Father Gemelli were trying to listen to Gregorian chants they had taped, but the recording contained voices that were neither the choir’s, nor their own (Zammit, 2006). Similarly, Friedrich Jurgenson tried repeatedly to record bird songs but suffered constant interruptions due to the voice of his late mother (Watson, 2004).

    Sceptics of these famous EVP recordings didn’t question the credibility of their founding fathers, but rather suggested that they were subject to the phenomenon known as pareidolia.  Pareidolia is the attempt to find or impose meaning and recognition of the familiar where it does not exist, such as seeing faces in clouds (From Abracadabra to Zombies, 2009).  As it applies to EVP recordings, pareidolia is the phenomenon of interpreting random noises and sounds as voices.  Pareidolia remains one of the major problems with EVP recordings today.

    For a mainstream example of an auditory phenomenon similar to pareidolia, you need look no further than the biggest international dance hit of the late 90’s, “Blue” by Eiffel 65.  Thousands of dance music aficionados insisted that the song was about race, believing the lyrics in the chorus to be, “I’m blue, if I was green I would die”.  Ravers in the club-scene claimed the catchy tune was promoting the drug ecstasy, “I’m blue, without ‘E’ I would die”.  Other commonly mistaken interpretations included the single woman’s “I’m blue, and in need of a guy”, and the hypochondriac’s “I’m blue, I will bleed, I will die”.  It turned out that the actual composition was much simpler, “I’m blue, dab ba dee, dab ba die”.  It is clear that people did not know the lyrics, and simply heard what they wanted to hear.

    Pareidolia is not unique to the uninitiated, even the most seasoned paranormal researcher must be aware of this potential bias when reviewing evidence from an investigation. Otherwise, a series of pipe-noises and creaks become faint voices.  After listening to the tape two dozen times, the voices seem to be saying something like, “Erase the past”, which the eager investigator interprets to mean that someone is asking for forgiveness from beyond the grave.

    One way to cut down on the number of unexplained sounds when reviewing audio evidence from an investigation is to be very thorough about tagging noises in real time.  In other words, noises that can be explained should be explained by the investigator as they occur.  For example, if an investigator walks across a squeaky floorboard and causes a noise, it makes things easier during evidence review if he tags the sound in the moment. This must also be done for coughing, sneezing, throat clearing and any other man-made noises that might be more difficult to discern on the recording.  Additionally, when walking through a room in which a stationary recording device is sitting, it is important to tag your presence.

    Some investigators are proponents of stationary recording devices, stating that the recordings are more valid when you eliminate the possibility of human contamination entirely (Southall 2009, 65) While this may be true from a technical standpoint, the evidence appears to suggest that researchers are more likely to capture an EVP if they carry on a conversation during an investigation (Didier, 2011).  Though this theory cannot adequately be explained to date, there exist a stunning number of unexplained voices caught overtop of conversations between investigators, and on occasion, the disembodied voice responds to a question posed by investigators.  However, a voice recorded by a stationary device in an “empty” room remains controversial because it is sometimes difficult to prove that the site had not been compromised.

    There are some investigators who prefer to have a source of white noise in the background when using stationary recording devices.  The steady sound provided by radio or TV static, or even the whirring of a fan provides a consistent base from which to gauge the volume of sounds caught on tape (Southall 2009, 66).  Unfortunately, this also opens up an obvious avenue for criticism. Both radios and TVs are capable of producing voices, even when tuned to static, and the noise from a fan can easily cause pareidolia if there is a stutter in the motor or an interruption in power-flow.  Introducing more “noise” to the recording certainly doesn’t help convince sceptics of an EVPs validity.

    Another common criticism of EVP recordings is the sound of the voice itself.  In some recordings there seems to be a metallic quality to the voice, leading people to believe that technology was somehow involved.  The thought, in this instance, is that the “evidence” has been planted by the investigators either during the actual investigation through the use of a second previously recorded voice, or following the investigation using a sound-editing program.  The other complaint regarding the quality of EVPs is that the recorded voice sometimes sounds as if it were whispered by an investigator, or for some more high-profile groups, a cameraman.  In both of these cases, however, the protests are focussed on the credibility of investigators themselves rather than the technology.  If the general public is unwilling to trust paranormal investigators, then the type of technology used to produce evidence doesn’t actually have any bearing on being able to prove the existence of ghosts.  What should matter instead is what other paranormal investigators think of the results gleaned from EVP recordings.

    Ultimately, any evidence of the paranormal will come under question, no matter the method, nor how careful and thorough the investigator.  The general public is sceptical regarding all things paranormal, including the investigators themselves.  For many of them, nothing short of a personal experience will convince them of the existence of ghosts.  There is no form of evidence, be it video, photography, or EVP recording that will answer the brief.  That being the case, public opinion concerning the validity of EVP recordings is irrelevant. The question is will credible paranormal investigators and researchers continue to accept EVP recordings as evidence?  When precautions are taken regarding the actual recording process, as well as the interpretation of evidence, the answer is yes.  EVP recordings are too valuable a tool to be dismissed by the same investigators who no longer consider the orb photo to be proof of the paranormal.  In the field of paranormal research, where it matters most, the validity of EVP recordings will never be reduced to that of the orb photo.

Works Cited

Clemens, Martin J. “EVP...The New Orb Photo” Paranormal People Online October 4 (2009): accessed February 13, 2011,

Didier, Matthew, and Sue St. Clair. January 10, 2011 (7:32p.m.) “Anomalous Recorded Sounds – Volume Level Location Tests” Sue St. Clair and Matthew Didier’s Paranormal Blog.

“From Abracadabra to Zombies,” The Skeptic’s Dictionary (2009): accessed February 13th, 2011,

Southall, Richard. How to be a Ghost Hunter. Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 2009.

Watson, Stephanie. “How EVP Works” How Stuff Works (2004): accessed February 13, 2011,

Zammit, Victor. A Lawyer Presents the Case for the Afterlife (2006): accessed February 13, 2011,