Do Ouija Boards Work?

Ryan Dube
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Many people who consider using the spirit board wonder, "Do Ouija boards work?" The answer is: Maybe.

The Debate: Do Ouija Boards Work?

There are two major schools of thought regarding whether or not the movement of the Ouji board planchette is really paranormal in nature. On one side, scientists believe the motion comes from a psychological artifact called "ideomotor action"; this is nothing more than subconscious movements of the hands by users. On the other side are spiritualists who believe that the Ouji board serves as a doorway to the spiritual realm.

Ouija Board History

If you ask twenty of your friends whether or not they've ever tried the Ouija board, the odds are good that at least a few will report that not only did it work, but the messages provided by the board scared them terribly. Still others find that when they attempt to use the board, it doesn't do anything at all.

Author Mitch Horowitz outlines the three major periods in American history when the Ouija board became wildly popular.

  • From about 1886 to the 1920s, different versions of the Ouija board were extremely popular. In 1920, Norman Rockwell even painted a man and women using one for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post.
  • The next significant boom in sales came during World War I and World War II as families looked for ways to contact soldiers lost on the field of battle. According to Horowitz, in 1944 one New York City retailer sold 50,000 boards in just five months.
  • Finally, when Parker Brothers purchased rights to the Ouija board in 1966, sales went through the roof. In 1967, sales of Ouija boards surpassed sales of Monopoly, and as the "New Age" religion escalated throughout the '60s and '70s, the Ouija board maintained its high popularity.

Since the 1990s, Ouija board popularity declined drastically, and today sales are only a small fraction of what they were back in the 1970s. However, the ouija board remains one of the most popular topics of debate and discussion throughout the Internet.

Personal Accounts of The Ouija Board

Across the Internet, you can find fascinating accounts of real experiences people had while using the Ouija board. Whether or not these experiences come from within your own subconscious or from an external intelligence, these tales are disturbing. Read through some of these experiences and decide for yourself whether there's anything significant going on with this mysterious device.

  • One article on features the story of a woman whose experiences with the board made her decide to never use it again.
  • At the Experience Project you can read stories from a group of people who use the ouija board as well as the input from readers who report their experiences with it.
  • The Museum of Talking Boards provides a ouija board page describing several real experiences with the board.

So, Do Ouija Boards Work?

J.B. Rhine, famous for his research into psychic functioning, and his wife, Louisa, studied many of the occult tools of the day including the Ouija board. Louisa, a respected researcher within psychical research circles, wrote an article in a 1970 newsletter for the American Society for Psychical Research on the subject of Ouija boards. In this article, Louisa noted that the messages from the Ouija board appear to come from the person's subconscious. She reported that the fact that the user isn't even aware of his or her own subconscious personality, and the strange responses from the board create the illusion that the person is dealing with another intelligence entirely. Many psychics point out the fact that since psychic functioning seems to originate from a person's subconscious, that may explain why psychics find that the ouija board helps them amplify those psychic abilities.In a fascinating formative evaluation conducted by researchers Joyce Ma and Debbie Kim that was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the researchers set up an air-hockey style "talking board" display as an exhibit at a science museum. After visitors utilized the exhibit, researchers questioned them for a reaction to the device. They found that:

  • Ten (of 19) of the visitors reported the device didn't work.
  • Two of the visitors reported results that provided legitimate answers to questions.
  • The remaining visitors were not using the device to answer questions.
  • Sixteen of the visitors reported that they didn't feel "uncomfortable" using the device.
  • Two visitors felt very uncomfortable because it reminded them of the ouija board.
  • One group of young kids were so disturbed by the exhibit that they refused to be interviewed.

The Mystery Continues

What existing research shows is that the ouija board "works" on many different levels. Psychologically, just the presence of a ouija board can scare many people. Additionally, at least a small percentage of people experience substantial enough results that it often scares them from ever using it again. Still other people overlook the cultural stigma and utilize the board for psychic, religious or entertainment reasons. What research has proven is that the human factor needs to be present for the board to move; it cannot move on its own, and it can't work when the user is blindfolded. However, the ultimate source of the information that comes from the board still remains an intriguing mystery.

Do Ouija Boards Work?