Brandon Massullo is a clinical therapist and parapsychologist residing in northeast Ohio. He has his graduate degrees in clinical counseling from the University of Toledo and psychological research methods from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, UK. His research at the University of Edinburgh centered on neurobiological correlates of ghostly encounters and he studied within the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh under the supervision of author and international lecturer, Dr. Caroline Watt (An Introduction to Parapsychology). Brandon has been fascinated by paranormal phenomena for 20 years and has been a participant and featured speaker in numerous paranormal forums and events, including the Parapsychological Association’s 60th Anniversary Celebration. His research has been cited in parapsychological journals, newspaper articles, and mainstream books. Brandon’s first book The Ghost Studies: New Perspectives of the Origins of Paranormal Experiences combines the thrill of reading real-life ghostly encounters and the satisfaction of new perspectives and insights into the cause of these exciting encounters. Check out Brandon’s blog Haunted Theories for more research into ghosts, apparitions, and all things paranormal.
Riley Mitchell: Your forthcoming book, The Ghost Studies: New Perspectives on the Origins of Paranormal Experiences, provides insights into current research on the study of ghosts and hauntings. What drew you to write the book and what are a couple of things you have uncovered in your research that were unexpected?
Brandon Massullo: The original premise for the book was a skeptical look at ghostly phenomena through the eyes of a mental health clinician. I had compiled research articles from mainstream psychology and parapsychology and began to write about the numerous natural and psychological causes to ghostly phenomena. While I’d always been fascinated with ghosts I never actually had a paranormal experience so I was highly skeptical of those who did. Prior to starting the book I studied at the University of Edinburgh where I conducted research into the correlations between environmental sensitivity and paranormal experiences. Environmental sensitivity has nothing to do with “psychic” abilities and is just a subset of the population who are more attuned to or sensitive to the environment around them. This group of people also report significantly more paranormal and apparitional experiences. Long story short I looked at my research through a skeptic’s lens and concluded that these environmentally sensitive individuals were just misinterpreting ambiguous stimuli, which resulted in more paranormal experiences. Looking back at my research today it hurts me that I reduced the over 600 paranormal experiences that were reported during my research to a simple explanation such as “misinterpreting ambiguous stimuli.”
Anyway, about a year into researching the book I decided to look more closely at thoughts and theories outside mainstream science. I began to read books by Carl Jung, Rupert Sheldrake, Nandor Fodor, Michael Shallis, Leonard Ravitz, Harold Saxton Burr, and Robert Becker, which opened my eyes to alternative ideas on consciousness and psi abilities.
I had a bit of an epiphany one night as I was struggling with fitting these new concepts about consciousness, psi, and paranormal experiences into my conservative view of the world. During this epiphany, I realized that I had spent so much time reading journal articles, books, and skeptical blogs that I had forgotten the most important aspect of understanding paranormal experiences . . . people. I spent the next 3-4 years gathering as many first-hand accounts of ghostly encounters as I could. I also read book after book of ghostly encounters. I listened to whoever wanted to talk to me about ghosts. I went to paranormal conventions and spoke with paranormal investigators. I let people talk about their encounters without interrupting them, judging them, or trying to debunk their claims. What was amazing is that after a while I started noticing similarities amongst a majority of these encounters, which led to some exciting new theories on ghostly encounters and of course changed the whole premise of my book.
RM: In the book you propose a “ghostly ingredients theory” that articulates the optimal conditions for paranormal encounters to occur. Would you summarize the “psychological, environmental, and bioenergetic fluctuations” that serve as the foundation for this perspective?
BM: Paranormal experiences are a series of complex processes. It’s not as simple as waking up and witnessing a deathbed apparition of your aunt. There is a series of complex processes which are occurring consciously as well as unconsciously which set the stage for this crisis apparition or “deathbed vision.”
Emotions have always been linked with paranormal phenomena as shown by the work of psychical researchers Carl Jung, Eleanor Sidgwick, and Louisa Rhine who all believed that heightened emotions are necessary for paranormal phenomena to occur. Crisis, trauma, acute stress, and life-threatening events cause an explosion of emotional distress and turmoil that can reverberate throughout the entire body, affecting one mentally and physically. Intense or acute emotional shifts related to crises are the starting points or the catalysts for ghostly phenomena. Because humans are, in essence, an extensive collection of electrical signals (heart, nerve impulses, neurons, etc.) and electrical beings, the question is what happens to our internal electrical makeup (bioenergetics) when we experience an emotional overload?
It is apparent that all living things are capable of generating an electromagnetic field. What is also apparent from the research presented in the book is that there is a bioelectrical charge created by emotions, which in turn, adds information to our existing human electrical field. This emotional electrical field, much like all other electrical fields, is not contained in our bodies and therefore can extend outward indefinitely into the atmosphere. I believe that these two processes (psychological aspects and changes in internal energy or bioenergetics) can lead to or trigger an innate human ability to acquire or communicate information using the Earth’s atmosphere.
The research discussed in The Ghost Studies suggests that our minds are entangled or connected with the minds of others (both alive and deceased), and more or less, can synchronize with others at great distances through the help of our Earth’s atmospheric properties. With this synchronization, information may be transported and shared. The type of information passed or communicated may come in the forms of visual images, feelings, hunches, visions, or voices. I posit that emotions related to a crisis or life-threatening event are the catalyst for experiencing an apparition or creating a haunting. Emotional distress then causes or triggers acute internal biological fluctuations, which in a sense tune our biological antennae to information in the environment leading to ghostly encounters.
My book has case examples that deal with crisis apparitions, deathbed visions, and residual or location based hauntings. Below is a case example from the book with a brief explanation of my thoughts on the causes of crisis apparitions.
“Tori had just settled into bed and was looking forward to a good night’s sleep. She had just closed her eyes when she noticed a bright flash of light. She sat up in her bed and scanned the room, however everything was back to blackness. She heard footsteps and smelled gasoline. She was then overwhelmed by a bright light followed by an image of her older cousin Jerry almost glowing while floating in front of her bed. She stated “he was as clear as if he was standing in front of me on a bright sunny day.” Tori reported she even noticed the glare from his glasses. Jerry stared back at Tori, gave her a thumbs up signal, and then disappeared. The next morning Tori had gotten a call from her mother stating her cousin Jerry died last night in an accident while working on his car.”
In this case, the percipient or witness experienced auditory phenomena in the form of “footsteps” and olfactory phenomena of “gasoline.” She also had an extremely vivid and specific image of her cousin, even noticing the glare from his glasses. Like so many cases of apparitions, we have a percipient (Tori) with an emotional or familial connection with the agent (cousin Jerry). We also have the agent (cousin Jerry) experiencing distress or a life-threatening situation (dying), which presumably causes an emotional turmoil. We don’t know what the cousin’s thoughts, emotions, or circumstances were prior to his death, however we can place ourselves in that situation to get some sort of notion. His acute emotional distress as the result of imminent death caused intense bioenergetic fluctuations which in essence sent an unconscious distress signal into the environment. This “distress signal” once in the environment bounced around till it matched frequencies or resonated with his cousin Tori and manifested in haunt-type phenomena.
RM: Are children more likely to see spirits? Are particular sites more likely to be haunted?
BM: I don’t use the term “spirits” because it implies survival after death. I like the terms “ghostly encounters” or “apparitions”. The definition of an apparition is simply experiencing a ghost-like image. The difference may seem small, but the term apparition does not imply survival after death or communication with the spirit world. This distinction is important because we don’t want to immediately jump to conclusions that a visual image is in fact a ghost. Back to the question at hand, I don’t think that children are more prone to ghostly encounters. I think that children may be more apt to report paranormal experiences because their reality testing is not as advanced as adults. Reality testing is basically the process we use to come up with explanations for sensory experiences. We use this cognitive skill often and for the most part, as our knowledge of our surroundings increases, these skills change. For example, a sound in my closet at night when I was 4 years old automatically meant the boogieman was after me; however, at age 36 the boogieman is last on a list of plausible explanations. When presented with external environmental stimuli or experiences, our brain goes through a process of looking for answers to explain the noise, light, or change in temperature. We then come up with hypotheses, which based on our knowledge and experiences explain the stimuli. We rank our hypotheses and settle on the explanation that seems the most plausible. In other words, I don’t think that age is a factor in experiencing an apparition or having a ghostly encounter. I do however believe that certain people are more prone to having paranormal experiences.
I also don’t think that particular sites are “more likely” to be haunted. I’ve heard paranormal investigators say things like “that house can’t be haunted it’s too new” or “there is no history of death or tragedy at this house so it’s most likely not haunted” Let’s say that “paranormal information” is similar to radio waves. If you are walking around the city, why is reception better in one area? Some of us remember adjusting the rabbit ear antennas of a TV until we got the right configuration for a channel. What makes that configuration best? I encourage others to ask this question relative to paranormal phenomena such as hauntings, ghosts, spirits, and so on. Other important questions are: What makes the witness unique? Why did they have this experience and the numerous others who visited this location did not? Obviously, this percipient is not experiencing these types of phenomena at work, or in other areas where they live, so why here at this location and why now? While the environment is important my belief is that a ghostly encounter or haunting is created as the result of interactions between people during emotional distress. This interaction or “telepathic distress call” can be stored in any environment including new houses, old houses, office buildings, parks, roofs, pools, etc.
RM: What do you consider the biggest challenge in convincing skeptical audiences that ghosts are measurable phenomena?
BM: At this point ghosts are not measurable phenomena. The paranormal is a difficult area to study in a logical, scientific way, as paranormal experiences are usually erratic, episodic, poorly documented and reported, random, and not repeatable on demand. These characteristics are everything that the scientific method deems irrelevant. This does not mean that ghostly encounters, apparitions, or ghosts don’t exist or are the result of fraud, mental illness, or over-active imaginations. The paranormal field has to find some consistent variables (which are measurable) that coincide with paranormal phenomena.
We have all heard or seen hundreds of EVPs, pictures, and videos of reported ghosts or spirits. So, what happens after this amazing evidence is collected? It’s posted to websites, Facebook, or Twitter and then … NOTHING. No follow-up, no attempts at replication, and no independent investigations. The “evidence” slowly fades away. Skeptics call the evidence faked or misinterpreted. Academia doesn’t care or even acknowledge the hundreds of EVPS, grainy pictures, or anomalies in videos. So, what do we do?
It is only through replication, patterns of data, and large sample sizes that skeptics and academia will take notice. It is only through identifying patterns or similarities in data that progress or advancement can be made. I’m a strong proponent of developing a solid questionnaire which can be distributed to all paranormal investigators. The questionnaire could include all types of data points including witness demographics, objective measurements of the location (weather, lunar phase, EMFs, date/time), Hx of paranormal beliefs, etc. By using a statistical analysis software program the above investigators could analyze the data they collected and look for similarities, patterns, and correlations among any type of data that they collected. A paranormal team that has investigated 100 haunted locations and handed out their questionnaire to three eyewitnesses per location would have a sample size of 300, which is a large sample size. Most scientific research and experiments don’t have large sample sizes. It’s actually considered a huge limitation in most psychological journal articles and research. The research I completed while at the University of Edinburgh had a sample size of 250, which was the largest in my class. Needless to say, a sample size of 300 is pretty impressive. But let’s not stop at 300 my paranormal friends. What if there was a standardized questionnaire that all paranormal investigators and teams used? The sample size could be in the thousands or perhaps over 100,000! Could you imagine? Trust me, if you had a standardized questionnaire which was distributed to a sample size of 100,000, academia would take notice. Professors and academic institutions would be salivating to get their hands on the data for 100,000 volunteers!
RM: Paranormal field investigations have become a media phenomenon in recent years. Are these coordinated explorations of presumably haunted locations helpful to the larger study/understanding of supernatural events?
BM: Ghost hunting shows don’t necessarily hurt the field as they bring awareness to the paranormal and also provide entertainment. I will say that over the past 3-4 years there has been an explosion in paranormal teams having YouTube shows and conducting live investigations through Facebook or other live feed websites. The field itself needs to “pump the brakes” in a sense. What we are seeing is hundreds of people and teams conducting investigations differently. There is absolutely no consensus on how to approach a witness or objectively study a ghostly encounter. What if every heart surgeon just opened people up and did what he thought would work?
RM: Why do you think people are fascinated by paranormal topics?
BM: I don’t have a long or well-research answered to this so I will simply say what I said when I was six years old . . . “Ghosts are cool.”