Why can some people 'hear' the voices of the dead? Scientists have an answer

Rob Waugh
·2 min read
Sun peeks out from behind the clouds in woman's head.
Why do some people think they can 'hear' the voices of the dead? (Getty)

Spiritualists who can “hear” the voices of the dead seem to share certain characteristics, a study has found.

People who claim to have the ability to “speak with the dead” (known as “clairaudience”) often had unusual experiences of “hearing voices” when they were young.

The researchers believe that spiritualists often encounter the belief that voices are from dead people while trying to understand their own experiences, the researchers say.

People who “hear” the voices of the dead also tend to be prone to self-absorption, the study by Durham University researchers found.

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The researchers say this trait is linked to immersion in mental or imaginative activities and altered states of consciousness.

The research was published in the journal Mental Health, Religion And Culture.

Lead researcher Dr Adam Powell of Durham University said: “Our findings say a lot about ‘learning and yearning’.

“For our participants, the tenets of spiritualism seem to make sense of both extraordinary childhood experiences as well as the frequent auditory phenomena they experience as practising mediums.

“But all of those experiences may result more from having certain tendencies or early abilities than from simply believing in the possibility of contacting the dead if one tries hard enough.

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Researchers surveyed 65 members of the Spiritualists’ National Union and 143 members of the general population, in the largest-ever scientific study into the experiences of clairaudient mediums.

Of the spiritualists, 18% reported having clairaudient experiences “for as long as they could remember”.

Most of these (71%) had not encountered spiritualism as a religious movement prior to their first experience.

The researchers found that 44.6% of spiritualists said they heard the voices of the dead on a daily basis.

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Most (79%) said the experiences of spirits speaking to them were part of their everyday lives – and 61.5% said that the communications occurred “inside their heads”.

The Durhan researchers write: “Spiritualists tend to report unusual auditory experiences which are positive, start early in life and which they are often then able to control.

“Understanding how these develop is important in helping us learn more about distressing or non-controllable experiences of hearing voices, and how to support those whose voices are linked to psychosis or other mental health problems.”

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