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Ghost Hunters in the Dark

Benjamin Radford is a research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and author or coauthor of ten books, including Bad Clowns.

Q: Why do ghost hunters look for ghosts at night with the lights off? Obviously it’s more dramatic, but is there some specific reason or investigative rationale behind it?

A: Nearly every ghost-themed “reality” TV show and film has one or more scenes in which the investigators walk around a darkened place, usually at night, looking for ghosts. Much of the reason that modern ghost hunters look for their quarry in the dark has nothing to do with science or investigation but instead early Spiritualist fraud and fakery— specifically the conditions under which ghostly hoaxing by psychic mediums would least likely be detected and visitors would be most open to misperception and psychological suggestion.

In her book on the Spiritualist town of Lily Dale—the site of various CSI investigations over the years (see, for example, Radford 2002)—Christine Wicker notes that “mediums so disliked light that they nailed planks over the windows of their séance rooms. . . . The mediums further improved their chances by constructing so-called spirit cabinets—curtained-off portions of the room from which the spirits emerged once all the lights were extinguished. Spirits demanded such conditions, the mediums said” (Wicker 2003, 65).

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