Dunning-Kruger Effect In Paranormal Investigations

This is the second post in a series of posts regarding human behavioral tendencies that you will contend with during your paranormal investigative career. During a science based investigation it is imperative to be cognizant of human behavioral tendencies including yours as the investigator, your colleagues, and the clients. In my last blog entry I discussed how the Baader–Meinhof Phenomenon affected paranormal investigations. The Baader–Meinhof Phenomenon, as described on wikipedia.com , also known as frequency bias, is a cognitive bias in which, after noticing something for the first time, there is a tendency to notice it more often, leading someone to believe that it has a high frequency (a form of selection bias). It occurs when increased awareness of something creates the illusion that it is appearing more often. Basically it means that you never heard of something before, or believe you haven’t, and then start noticing it randomly as you go through your days and believe it is happening often, when in reality it was happening all along and you just weren’t aware of it. Today I will discuss a different topic about human behavior. I will discuss how the Dunning-Kruger Effect can be experienced during a paranormal investigation.

As I have in the past I will put in a disclaimer that for the sake of easily differentiating between two different scenarios I am going to refer to “ghost hunting” as a recreational activity where the only purpose of the event is to try and find paranormal activity. I will refer to a “paranormal investigation” as something where seasoned investigators work on a case for a client using science and investigative procedure in order to explain perceived activity before turning to paranormal science and parapsychology for answers. I realize that many people use the terms interchangeably while others do not. For the sake of this blog post let’s assume they are two different activities.

Encyclopedia Britannica defines the Dunning-Kruger Effect as “In psychology, a cognitive bias whereby people with limited knowledge or competence in a given intellectual or social domain greatly overestimate their own knowledge or competence in that domain relative to objective criteria or to the performance of their peers or of people in general. According to the researchers for whom it is named, psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the effect is explained by the fact that the metacognitive ability to recognize deficiencies in one’s own knowledge or competence requires that one possess at least a minimum level of the same kind of knowledge or competence, which those who exhibit the effect have not attained. Because they are unaware of their deficiencies, such people generally assume that they are not deficient, in keeping with the tendency of most people to choose what they think is the most reasonable and optimal option.”

Basically the Dunning-Kruger Effect is when someone thinks they know more than they actually do about a subject. Often people, to use a metaphor, dip their toes into something and aren’t aware of the vast scope of what they are dipping their toes into. An example of this in the paranormal research field is someone who watches paranormal television shows and goes to a public ghost hunt, learns how to use a K2 meter and a cheap voice recorder, learns a few words of paranormal terminology, goes home to watch a bunch of youtube videos, then runs through a few of their friends houses and perhaps a vacant building or two, and thinks they know all they need to know to investigate the paranormal.

I began researching the paranormal approximately 30 years ago in my youth due to personal experiences, but didn’t actually get involved with paranormal investigation until approximately 11 years ago when I was 31 years old. By that age I had many years of researched knowledge about paranormal science and parapsychology. Eleven years later and I am still heavily researching paranormal science and parapsychology. I have been semi-retired from working since the beginning of June this year, and I have spent the last 4 ½ months in deep research regarding paranormal science, parapsychology, and human behavior. Every nugget of knowledge can help elevate your skill set as a paranormal investigator. Many people get into the paranormal investigation field with the most basic knowledge that they gained by watching a few of the more science based paranormal investigation television shows and perhaps doing a little research online. Those television shows are for entertainment, and while a few of them do a pretty good job of conducting a moderately scientific investigation, they tend to shy away from investigating parapsychological and psychological causes of either empirical or perceived paranormal activity. In all honesty I can understand why they produce the ghost hunting, ghost story, and paranormal investigation shows in the manner that they do because a thorough paranormal investigation that includes psychology and parapsychology would make for a television show that your average paranormal television audience wouldn’t watch. Their goal is to make money and to do that they need to sell ads and they can make more money selling those ads by producing their show to be attractive to the largest audience possible. If a paranormal investigation show was based upon a serious scientific investigation you would lose a large portion of your viewers as only die hard enthusiasts would watch the entire show.

In reality when conducting a paranormal investigation it is imperative to include topics of psychology and parapsychology in your investigation. A few dozen of these topics include (these will be in alphabetical order) astral projection, autokinesis, auto-kinetic effect, Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, Butterfly Effect, clustering illusion, cryptomensia, dark adaption, dermo-optical perception, Doorway Effect, dopamine, Dunning-Kruger Effect, gases, gravity, Hutchinson Effect, hypnagogic hallucinations, hypnopompic hallucinations, ideomotor phenomenon, Infinite Monkey Theorem, infrasound & ultrasound, instrumental transcommunication, isochronic tones and binaural beats, Jürgenson Frequency, kinesis, lucid dreaming, Mandela Effect, meteorology, observer effect, observer expectancy effect, palinopsia, parapsychology related subjects such as channeling, clairalience, clairambience, clairaudience, clairsentience, clairvoyance, dowsing, empathy, hypnosis, precognition, psychokineses, psychometry, retrocognition, and telepathy. Other subjects include parasomnia, pareidolia, peripheral drift vision, photography, piezoelectricity, postdiction, power of suggestion, psychometry, quantum entanglement, scopaesthesia, Singapore Theory, sleep deprivation, sleep paralysis, solar weather, Stone Tape Theory, synchronicity, synesthesia, tachypsychia, Thatcher Effect, and thought transference. I briefly touched on most of these subjects in now of my last blog entries entitled “Subjects For Investigators To Research” which can be found here.

I could add a bunch of other subjects to that list. You will not hear about the vast majority of those subjects on paranormal investigation shows (and definitely not on ghost hunting or ghost story shows) because they won’t make for good television and you won’t see it often in online videos as well. That list of subjects would be appropriate for a paranormal investigation documentary aimed at a niche audience. In my years involved with the paranormal investigation and research field I have met some paranormal investigators that are familiar with most of these subjects, and others that are familiar with only a few of these subjects, if any at all. Those familiar with most of these subjects were typically in the field for at least a decade and deeply interested in knowing everything they could about anything that could come into play during a paranormal investigation. They enjoyed the research and the continuing self education. I am not saying that you need to know about all of these things to be a good paranormal investigator, I am saying that upon learning about all of these subjects you will have an increased skill set to aid you in paranormal investigating. You would be surprised how many times I have been on a paranormal investigation, watched one online, or watching one on the television where the investigators claimed they had evidence of paranormal activity when there was a science based explanation for the experience. Don’t get me wrong I have experienced my fair share of paranormal activity over the years and have seen plenty in videos that was legitimate. I have also seen a lot of false positives due to the investigator not being familiar with many of the topics that I listed earlier and discussed in a previous blog post that can be found here.

The first paranormal group that I got involved with in early 2010 had years of experience, but very limited knowledge. I would say that they were experienced ghost hunters more than they were paranormal investigators. They were more interested in seeing paranormal activity than they were completing a thorough scientific paranormal investigation. The leader of that group would be classified as somewhat unknowingly experiencing the Dunning-Kruger Effect. They thought they were well versed because they knew everything that you could know by watching the paranormal related televisions shows of that time. They never took the time to look deeper into paranormal investigation. They didn’t realize that they had only scratched the surface. Meaning well they were attempting to teach others online in an informal online class and I found that most of the students knew more than the teacher did. The paranormal enthusiast group loved ghost hunting, but had unknowingly mistaken it for a scientific paranormal investigation. They are two different things. One is a recreational event and the other is a bonafide scientific investigation. A metaphor would be the difference between a casual stargazer and an amateur astronomer. The casual stargazer may have a cheaper telescope so they can look at Saturn’s rings and the moons of Jupiter. Perhaps they can see a few closer galaxies and larger star clusters. They like to look at celestial bodies, but do not get involved with learning the science behind any of it. They don’t study the lifecycles of stars and planets. They aren’t interested in what gases are in the atmosphere of other planets, what type of rock is on the planets, the distances to objects and how gravity links them, etc. They aren’t interested in different branches of astronomy that occur at different levels on the electromagnetic spectrum. Most serious amateur astronomers get very deep into learning about astronomy and astrophysics. It doesn’t mean that a serious amateur astronomer is any better than a casual stargazer. It just means that one dedicates themself much more to the field of study than the other. Whether you wish to be a ghost hunter or a paranormal investigator depends on how far you want to go with the paranormal field due to personal levels of interest.

After a few months of being involved with that paranormal enthusiast group I realized that ghost hunting wasn’t what I wanted to do long term. I wanted something more. Don’t get me wrong I find it fun to partake in a ghost hunt once in a great while, but I longed to get into scientific paranormal investigations and soak up as much education as I possibly could to aid me in doing so. I separated from that paranormal enthusiast group and began researching to find other groups of paranormal investigators to network with. I didn’t find anyone locally so thanks to the internet I found a nexus online for very serious paranormal investigators where they shared skills with each other in order to help each other continually improve their skill set. Eleven years later I still speak with some of those people and we continue to help each other. I have several decades of research under my belt and I still feel that there is plenty more for me to learn. Later in 2010 ended up starting my own paranormal investigation and research group while still learning about investigative methodology from others in the online nexus. At that time the person who founded the nexus had a weekly podcast that was very thorough about a lot of things related to paranormal investigation, and it was very beneficial for me to soak it all in. Even after a three decades of study and eleven years of investigating I still feel there is plenty for me to learn.

So how could you experience the Dunning-Kruger Effect in the paranormal investigation field? I will give you several examples of scenarios where this has occurred.

1) When I lived in Massachusetts during the peak of the rise of the paranormal television shows there were tons of ghost hunting groups forming and some paranormal investigation groups forming where the investigators were very new to the field. They meant well and only wanted to help people. Unfortunately due to the Dunning-Kruger Effect they believed they learned everything that they needed to know from watching a few television shows. When completing investigations for clients they were giving clients investigation results that wouldn’t hold up to an investigation if it were completed by experienced investigators. Of course they don’t have the experience that a seasoned investigator would, but they weren’t networking and using experienced investigators as a consultant before doing the reveal to the client. They weren’t researching paranormal science and investigative procedure. Countless misidentifications of paranormal activity were made and I started getting contacted a lot more by clients of other investigative groups to clarify findings. In most cases the investigation group was incorrect in their assessments and I would educate the client on their particular situation. You can’t go to someones house, assume everything that shows up on a gadget has to be paranormal, and tell your client that the place is haunted, not educate them on paranormal science because you aren’t familiar with it yourself, and then run off to the next investigation so you can find paranormal activity. This doesn’t do any service to your client. These newer investigation groups didn’t have any ill intent. They legitimately didn’t know there was so much more to what they were doing, but they weren’t aware of it because none of the television shows covered any of it as it didn’t make for good television. At that time someone would have to look pretty hard to find a serious paranormal investigation group to learn from as most of them aren’t posting videos online and engaging in groups of people sharing spooky evidence. They tend to only network with each other and create basic websites to make the general public aware of their existence. Most of these new investigation groups that didn’t seek out further education never lasted more than six months to a year or two. My research showed that most of them left the paranormal investigation field and went back to ghost hunting instead. They realized it wasn’t as it appears to be on television. Many overcame the Dunning-Kruger Effect and realized they didn’t have the skill set to perform a thorough investigation and to help clients. Those with the drive to do so joined up with more experienced paranormal investigation groups and found people to network with online to help increase their skill set. Those that didn’t want to dedicate the time that it takes to become a well seasoned investigator either went back to ghost hunting or just got out of the field all together. To use another metaphor if they had done some more research before jumping into the deep end of the pool they would have found that they needed to learn much more than they had learned from there paranormal related television shows and in doing so they wouldn’t have been overwhelmed or disinterested in a scientific paranormal investigation. The Dunning-Kruger Effect had affected them. If they hadn’t jumped into the deep end of the pool when they weren’t ready, perhaps they may still be engaging in paranormal investigations today if it were something that still interested them.

2) When I was new to active paranormal investigations I had quite a bit of book knowledge as it pertains to paranormal science, parapsychology, and general science, but where I really lacked at the time was the knowledge about psychology, and in particular mental health at the time. I didn’t know it at the time but I was experiencing the Dunning-Kruger Effect. I didn’t take into account how paranormal activity and perceived paranormal activity could strongly effect somebody to a higher mental level. One of my first clients had made claims of paranormal activity in the house. They were convinced that their place was haunted. I conducted a paranormal investigation and found no signs of anything paranormal. From my client interview and paranormal investigation I was convinced that the client was suffering from a mental illness and wasn’t in a position to have a clear and open mind. Due to the Dunning-Kruger Effect I hadn’t put in the study time to learn about mental health. I wanted to learn about paranormal science, parapsychology, and investigative techniques because that is what I found interesting. I never took the time to improve my knowledge on human behavior which I now know plays a huge part during paranormal investigation cases. Even with some self study I wouldn’t ever come close to having the knowledge and ability of someone with a college degree, but if I had engaged in some some self study as it pertains to mental health I could have increased my skillset to include symptoms of mental illness and methods to properly communicate with people that do as to not do harm to them emotionally. I hadn’t done that as I didn’t find it as interesting as paranormal related subjects. I hadn’t realized that they were so strongly intertwined. During the client case reveal I had to communicate to this person that I felt that they should seek out treatment from a medical doctor and that I don’t believe that their place was haunted. I felt that due to mental illness their anxiety was causing pareidolia, as defined by wikipedia.com, which is the tendency for perception to impose a meaningful interpretation on a nebulous stimulus, usually visual, so that one sees an object, pattern, or meaning where there is none. This can happen when looking at clouds, looking at static, when in fog or a steamy room, in a room with a large amount of energy etc. Basically the client was taking situations where something would fall due to gravity and the items placement, sounds of the house settling, air in the pipes, sounds of animals outside being distorted as the sound traveled down the chimney, and the client’s misinterpreting situations of their own doing due to a mental health issue, and believing all of these situations were paranormal in nature when they were not. I managed to get through the situation without making things worse, but I would have been much better prepared if I had taken the time to study about mental health before I got into completing paranormal investigations. Thankfully the client was receptive and somewhat unaware to their worsening condition, and went and proceeded to get the help that they needed from a doctor properly trained for their situation. Due to the Dunning-Kruger Effect I was ill prepared to deal with that situation. I quickly learned my lesson and began studying mental health and methods to interact with people who suffer from mental health issues. I also sought out options to educate clients in that situation on places in to contact to seek out the help that they needed.

3) One day some time ago I was watching a video online of a paranormal investigation where the investigators were using a K2 meter and an SLS Camera. Historically some TV shows have portrayed these devices to be a ghost/spirit detector. A K2 meter is a device that is an unshielded electromagnetic frequency meter that can be set off by anything from a cell phone renegotiating it’s connection to a tower, a weak two way radio down the street or a strong one miles away, WiFi, a human or animal, static electricity, another meter, visible light, an infrared focus beam from a camera, etc. Anything can set this device off, and I mean virtually anything. Therefore the K2 meter device is unreliable to be used as it is seen used on television. The only benefit of the K2 meter device is to use it to find EMF spikes from electric equipment in close proximity. A Structured Light Sensor Camera (SLS Camera) is a device marketed as gathering electromagnetic radiation and giving it a visual representation as stick figures representing spirits or ghosts. This device does have practical applications outside of paranormal investigation. Some scientists and where applicable other fields of study use them, but they are not designed for paranormal investigations. While it is an intriguing theory it doesn’t have a practical purpose in a paranormal investigation as any energy can be represented as a paranormal entity on this device, similar to how anything can set off a K2 meter. A SLS camera isn’t a ghost/spirit camera as it is portrayed to be by some people on television. You will notice that the most serious investigators no longer use the K2 meter as better sensory equipment has been available for a long time, and they don’t use an SLS camera. During this video the investigators were absolutely convinced that they had found paranormal activity. A phenomenon I mentioned earlier which is called the Infinite Monkey Theorem as defined by Wikipedia states “that a monkey hitting keys at random on a computer keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type any given text if given enough time.” In the paranormal world a similar situation would be watching the output from an SLS Camera, asking the figure you see on screen repeatedly over and over again to raise its arm, and by chance the output eventually shows a stick figure raising its arm, and you believe it must be responding to you, when reality it is the device just randomly varying output. The investigator in the video kept verbally asking what they believed to be a spirit that was represented by a stick figure on the output of the SLS camera to raise its arm. After some time the SLS camera screen showed a stick figure raising its arm. The investigators were convinced that a intelligent paranormal entity was interacting with them because of what they saw on the SLS camera in tandem with a K2 meter lighting up like a disco ball. You could clearly see there was an old electrical fuse box in the field of view that was easily causing all of the activity on the devices, but due to the Dunning-Kruger Effect these investigators believed that they were experiencing paranormal activity due to a limited skill set. In addition there is something called the Observer Expectancy Effect which as defined by Wikipedia “is also called the experimenter-expectancy effect, expectancy bias, observer effect, or experimenter effect. It is a form of reactivity in which a researcher’s cognitive bias causes them to subconsciously influence the participants of an experiment. Confirmation bias can lead to the experimenter interpreting results incorrectly because of the tendency to look for information that conforms to their hypothesis, and overlook information that argues against it.” In the paranormal field that means someone who goes into an investigation biased that a location is haunted. The paranormal investigator or ghost hunter has equipment and personal experience activity and interprets any type of activity to be paranormal because they want it to be so. They may also attempt to convince others that benign occurrences have to be paranormal activity. So in this video that I watched online, due to primarily the Dunning-Kruger Effect in concert with the Infinite Monkey Theorem and the Observer Expectancy Effect, we ended up with a video with nothing paranormal going on where the investigators believed they had hit the pay dirt of paranormal activity.

As you can see people who experience the Dunning-Kruger Effect are usually oblivious to it at the time. Sometimes they find out about it after the fact or when they fumble when doing something. It is important to not overestimate your ability and to think that you know it all. Stay humble and keep an open mind as to your own need for skill set evolution. After a several decades of paranormal research I still believe that I have plenty to learn and continue to expand my skill set to improve my ability as a paranormal investigator. Once you believe that you know everything there is to know about paranormal investigations and believe that you can’t develop any further you have become another victim of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Don’t be that person. Continue to do more research in paranormal science, parapsychology, psychology, and other related subjects as I had listed early on in this blog. There will always be someone more experienced than you and it is beneficial to seek out their assistance and to network with other serious paranormal investigators to help you further your education. The more that you learn makes you a more respected and capable investigator. Learning can be just as fun as experiencing paranormal activity or perceived paranormal activity and being able to explain the how’s and why’s behind it. We cognizantly choose what we like or dislike. You can easily choose to enjoy conducting research to expand your knowledge of subjects related to the paranormal investigation and research field. It is important to not become complacent in the field of study. It is a science and always evolving. It is important for you to do the same. I suggest taking five to ten minutes a few days a week (or longer than that and doing so daily if you are so inclined to do so) to expand your knowledge that would benefit you when partaking in a scientific paranormal investigation. Don’t forget that doing so also benefits your colleagues and your clients.