The Problem With Human Pendulums

The human pendulum is an experiment that is often conducted during paranormal investigations where one of the investigators themselves is used as the method of communication.

The way the experiment works is that one person stands in a clear open space, the other investigators then encourage the spirits to gently push that person in order to answer questions. They may be pushed forward to indicate “yes” and backwards to indicate “no”. It’s almost as if the person being moved is being used as a living Ouija board planchette.

Normally two other members of the team will stand in front and behind the human pendulum ready to catch them, as it’s not uncommon for a spirit to get carried away and push a person over.

The method can produce a lot of results as it enables investigators to ask pretty much any yes/no question. You can determine the sex of the spirit you’re in communication with, ask questions about their age, the decade they died, what they did in life, and just about anything else.

The problem with this method of spirit communication is that you can’t rule out the possibility of subconscious suggestion. In fact, everything about the way this experiment is conducted points to the fact that it is nothing more than the result of an unwitting psychological phenomenon.

The first clue to this is how the human pendulum is picked. On a public ghost hunting event, often the event hosts will ask all of the guests to stand in a circle with their eyes closed. They’ll then call out to the spirits and say something like “if there are any spirits here, can you move around this circle and push someone”.

At this point, the team aren’t really speaking to the spirits, they’re actually speaking to the guests. While in a vulnerable state with their eyes closed, simply suggesting that a spirit might push them is enough to make them sway on the spot. It’s nothing paranormal, just the power of suggestion.

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The team then look for the one guest that’s swaying the most. What this first step has done is identify the most suggestible guest at the event, the person who’s most likely to be affected by the human pendulum.

You can try this for yourself. Stand with your back to your sofa or a soft chair, close your eyes and imagine a force pushing against your forehead. Imagine that force growing stronger and stronger until it starts to push you backwards. Many people who try this will find that without consciously being aware of it they physically move backwards and most will actually topple over and land on the sofa.

Exactly the same is happening during the human pendulum experiment, the only difference is that it’s not imagining the sensation of being pushed that is causing the person to move, but the belief that a spirit can move them and them anticipating the answers to the questions being asked.

When you think about it, it’s pretty logical. Ghost hunters will often tell you that spirits need to muster up a lot of energy to move or throw something, yet in the case of the human pendulum they’re able to push a person multiple times without any difficulty. It contradicts everything else that is believed about ghosts.

The average human weighs around 70kg and during the experiment are stood with their feet firmly rooted to the floor. To push a person in this state requires a fair bit of energy. Whereas an interior door weighs just 20kg and swings freely and easily on a hinge. If a spirit can push a human to indicate yes or no, then it should be able to swing a door open or closed to answer questions. This requires much less energy, so why is this never done during a paranormal investigation?

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If you’re still not convinced about the difference in strength required to push a human versus a swinging door, imagine a cat trying to push a fully grown adult – the person wouldn’t budge even in the slightest. Yet a cat can easily swing a door open by nudging it with its nose.

Once a human starts swinging back and forth under the alleged influence of a spirit, why is the human never replaced with a small ball on the floor. If the spirit can cause a human to sway, again it should be able to roll a ball with ease.

However, a believer in this method might tell you that the spirit is using the energy of the person acting as the human pendulum and without that person being involved the spirit has no power to move an object. It’s hard to counter this argument. All you can do is be rational and clever with your questions. You might find that in a session a spirit will push someone forward to indicate yes when asked “were you stabbed?” If you leave sufficient time between questions, there’s a chance the human pendulum might have forgotten some of the questions that have been asked previously and therefore “did you drown?” might also get a yes response.

One way to confirm for sure that the movements are simply a subconscious response to the questions could be to blindfold and put ear plugs in the person being used as the pendulum. If the person acting as the pendulum can not hear any of the questions or even see the lips moving when a question is asked, then you’re likely to find that the person either won’t move at all or that their movements will be erratic and not in direct response to questions.

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It may be that paranormal groups have tried this, but there doesn’t seem to be any public record of this sort of experiment being conducted. Perhaps because most serious parapsychologist would just write this experiment off as a game rather than anything worthy of serious investigation.

If you do consider trying this experiment for yourself, then be sure that the human pendulum can’t hear you at all. This can be done by giving them ear plugs to wear and then placing a pair of noise cancelling headphones playing white noise over the top. If the person does move in response to the questions try to trip them up by asking “are you male?” and “are you female?” See if you get ‘yes’ for one and ‘no’ for the other. Come back to those same questions later and see if the responses are consistent, and leave long periods of silence without asking questions to see if the pendulum moves when it shouldn’t.

If the human pendulum experiment really is a demonstration of paranormal activity, then it begs the question why can a spirit move a human so easily but not other objects? The whole idea of this experiment not only contradicts, but undermines the basis of most people’s beliefs about ghosts and how they behave.

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