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Feeding off fear

I recently reshared an article I wrote a little while ago called Why we like to be scared.  It talked about how our bodies and brains react to fear and that it turns out deep down we actually like it.  We like the feelings of unease, surprise and even fear.  It made me think about my own early paranormal experiences.  What makes an experience so memorable is how it makes people feel.  It is this feeling that often keeps the spark for investigating the paranormal alive.  It also inspired a few people to share some of their own experiences with me which I am also so happy to read.  I recently rewatched the classic horror movie The Tingler from 1959 which is all about fear and it got me thinking.  As investigators, we speak often about how much the power of suggestion can influence a person. While above we talked about remembering our most profound experiences and how they made us feel, what if someone unknowingly tricked you into thinking you were having a personal experience?  How much of what we experience is us feeding off the fear of the other people with us?

The Tingler

I am going to travel back in time now to 1959 and the movie starring none other than the amazing Vincent Price (I have a point I promise).  The movie begins with the director giving the following speech:

I am William Castle, the director of the motion picture you are about to see. I feel obligated to warn you that some of the sensations—some of the physical reactions which the actors on the screen will feel—will also be experienced, for the first time in motion picture history, by certain members of this audience. I say ‘certain members’ because some people are more sensitive to these mysterious electronic impulses than others. These unfortunate, sensitive people will at times feel a strange, tingling sensation; other people will feel it less strongly. But don’t be alarmed—you can protect yourself. At any time you are conscious of a tingling sensation, you may obtain immediate relief by screaming. Don’t be embarrassed about opening your mouth and letting rip with all you’ve got, because the person in the seat right next to you will probably be screaming too. And remember—a scream at the right time may save your life.

The Tingler (1959)

The scene was set.  So too were the paid actors in the audience and the seats wired to electronic buzzers.  Randomly throughout the movie, the actors would scream causing some movies goers to scream themselves.  Some regular moviegoers felt their chairs vibrate so with the movie and the screaming, they too screamed with some running out of the theatre in fear.   

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It is the perfect example of how our fear can feed off the people around us.

Mass Hysteria

In July 2019 at a school in North East Malaysia, Siti Nurannisaa seemed to be at the center of a large incident.

According to BBC News in her words:

The assembly bells rang.

I was at my desk feeling sleepy when I felt a hard, sharp tap on my shoulder.

I turned round to see who it was and the room went dark.

Fear overtook me. I felt a sharp, splitting pain in my back and my head started spinning. I fell to the floor.

Before I knew it, I was looking into the ‘otherworld’. Scenes of blood, gore and violence.

The scariest thing I saw was a face of pure evil.

It was haunting me, I couldn’t escape. I opened my mouth and tried to scream but no sound came out.

I passed out

Within minutes, her classmates followed suit. 39 girls felt that they were in danger of dark shadow or an unseen force. Screaming in panic, they barricaded themselves in the classroom. Islamic spiritual healers were brought in to conduct mass prayer sessions. Psychologists believe it to be a case of mass hysteria fueled by the countries’ deep religious roots. In fact, it is not the first time there has been such an incident. 

The BBC reports that in 2016, there were several similar incidents across schools in Malaysia that actually shut the schools down. Siti Ann who was a part of the 2016 outbreak spoke to BBC News:

The scare lasted hours but it took months for life to return to normal,

My schoolmates said they saw an elderly woman standing amongst the trees.

I couldn’t see what they saw but their reactions were real.

It is believed that the country’s fascination with ghosts could be the catalyst for such incidents. Many of the students believed their school was haunted. The children are brought up hearing stories of scary entities who are all presented as ‘evil’. A lot of these stories are connected with trees and burial grounds so psychologists believe that these incidents could be sparked by a person thinking they are seeing something by the trees. In fact, after the above incident, all of the trees surrounding the school were removed. While locals believe this to be a supernatural occurrence, others believe it is a case of mass hysteria.

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Mass hysteria is defined as a collective illusion whether it is real or imaginary where essentially a group of people all believe they are experiencing the same thing. What starts with one person soon spreads. In the first case, it started with one girl and spread to her 39 classmates.

Feeding off the people around us in a paranormal investigation

Now I am not at all saying that if we get scared and think something is paranormal that we are suffering from a sense of mass hysteria or just afraid of the dark.  That is far from what I am saying.  What we do need to consider however is the influence and effect others can have on our perceptions and feelings.  I have been on paranormal investigations and in certain moments, in the dark and there are tense feelings in the air, if someone screams or shouts, it is almost like in the movie the Tingler where by screaming you are letting that fear out and it pours over the people around you.  It kicks their fight or flight response into gear and now they are feeling scared too.  I myself have been in situations where I have suddenly been overcome with irrational fear.  My fight or flight was triggered by another person.  Whether something paranormal was happening or not, in this particular instance I can think about, I was feeding off the fear of another person without realising it.  Their fear was projecting onto me and making me feel the same.  Sometimes we may be allowing fear to overtake us.  When it consumes and overtakes us we become more and more vulnerable and in a lot of ways more irrational.  Of course, there are also people who believe that spirits themselves feed off of our own fear and when a person is projecting fear, it can make them stronger.  

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We also have to remember that our belief systems play a major role here as well.  It is also a large part of what influences us and again feeds our fears.  Like above with the girls in Malaysia, the strong belief in the supernatural played a significant part, just like it could in a paranormal investigation.  The people you are with make a huge difference here.  If you have a few minutes, I encourage you to watch these two videos and compare the huge difference between the two. 

Now let’s look at sceptics on an investigation.

It is a reminder that no matter what is happening be it paranormal or not and what you believe or don’t believe, the people you are surrounding yourself with have a HUGE influence on the outcomes.


Cover Photo by Ahmed Adly

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