Do ghosts really exist? With Halloween coming, Professor Chris French, head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, tackles this spooky issue.

As Halloween approaches, lots of us will find ourselves asking that very question – not least the members of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Anomalistic psychology is primarily focussed upon coming up with non-paranormal explanations for ostensibly paranormal experiences – everything from alien abduction claims to people claiming to have psychic powers!

When it comes to ghosts, it is simply not possible to prove beyond all doubt that they don’t exist. But there are lots of very good reasons to be sceptical of such claims.

To begin with, there are those spectacular ‘true’ cases featured in books and films that turn out to be nothing more than elaborate hoaxes.

The media love a good ghost story but seem a lot less inclined to publish a story that debunks the original claim. For example, the famous ‘true story’ of the Amityville Horror is now generally regarded to be a hoax from start to finish – but not many newspapers reported that. Having said that, it is almost certainly the case that most claims of ghostly encounters are not deliberate hoaxes.

Most claimants are sincere and honest – but that does not mean that they are correct. There are dozens of well-documented cases involving people misinterpreting some natural phenomenon – such as objects moving because of vibrations caused by traffic – as contact from ‘the other side’.

Just because someone cannot think of a natural explanation for some unusual event does not mean there isn’t one.

Perhaps even scarier, it is not at all unusual for perfectly normal people, in some circumstances, to see and hear things that are just not there.

One example of this is the phenomenon of sleep paralysis during which, for a short time, the sufferer may see monstrous figures in the room, hear voices or footsteps, feel as if they are being pressed down, and so on – and all the time they can’t move a muscle! Terrifying? You bet! But essentially a harmless glitch in the normal sleep cycle.

If you are interested in the weird and wonderful but also consider yourself to be a pretty rational sort of person, do check out the following two talks series in south-east London: Greenwich Skeptics in the Pub ( and the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths ( In both cases, all talks are free, open to the public, and there is no need to book (unless otherwise stated).

What do you think about ghosts? Do you think you’ve seen one? Do you think they exist? Can there really be a ‘natural’ explanation for everything that happens? Add your comments below.

Haunted: 10 of the scariest places in south-east London and north Kent