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How to Detect Paranormal Activity

Karen Frazier
ghost hunter

Paranormal investigators must know about paranormal activity and how to detect its presence. When paranormal investigators receive a case, it is often because home or business owners have noticed signs of paranormal activity. While such observations are paramount to an investigation, serious investigators seek to use technical instruments to discover whether the activity has any evidentiary basis.

Follow a Careful Process to Detect Paranormal Activity

There is no equipment that actually detects paranormal activity, but it does collect data. You can use instruments such as environmental sensors, cameras, and recorders to monitor the environment and notice anomalies. If there is a correspondence in anomalies or data with other information, such as personal experiences, you may be experiencing paranormal activity. Be sure to use best practices as you monitor your environment on a paranormal investigation.

Take Baseline Readings

Before you begin an investigation, walk through the location and take readings with all equipment you plan to use so you can establish a baseline. Record these on a chart so you can refer to them when you review the data.

Sync Time Stamps

Before you begin using any data recorders or sensors, make sure every piece of equipment you use is synced with the same time stamp. If possible, sync to the second. Syncing will be important when you get to your data review.

Note Your Observations

Most paranormal investigators will tell you the best piece of equipment you have in detecting paranormal activity is you and what you notice via your five senses. Likewise, as a paranormal investigator, you need to be keenly observant rather than keeping your head buried reading equipment all the time. If you're watching a meter for the entire investigation, you're not paying attention to what is happening around you.

It is important to maintain a simple log for each investigator. While observations won't serve as stand-alone evidence when detecting paranormal activity, any observations you do make may be of significance, especially when coupled with an unusual instrumental reading.

The chart below offers an example of how investigators might log sensory observations.




Location Observation

Were any instrument readings present? Describe.

11/14/2016 23:15:08 to 23:16:00 Attic, northwest corner Aroma of roses Yes. K2 meter spiked to red just after we noticed the scent. Two investigators noticed. Neither was wearing anything rose scented, and there was no one else in the area.
11/14/2016 23:20:17 to 23:20:24 Attic, northwest corner Cold spot

No. Temperature reading remained steady at 70 degrees.

For about 7 seconds, I felt a distinct cold spot. I checked, and no air blowers turned on, nor was I near a window where a draft might be present. Other investigator did not notice.

11/15/2016 00:01:15 to 00:01:20 Attic, northwest corner Mist formation Yes. Temperature dropped two degrees Fahrenheit in same time frame. Two investigators watched as a mist formed in front of us in the attic's corner. The mist was visible to the naked eye and formed for about five seconds before it disappeared. The mist formed from the floor to a height of about three feet, appeared white in color, and didn't have any distinct shape.

Use Environmental Sensors to Detect Atmospheric Changes

Paranormal detectives use an array of environmental sensors to aid in detecting paranormal activity. While anomalous changes in environmental readings don't necessarily mean there's paranormal activity present, changes can either help rule out the presence of paranormal activity, or they may combine with other observations to be more suggestive paranormal activity is present. According to parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach, "The appropriate use of environmental sensors is to look for anomalies or environmental conditions that can be correlated to people's experiences and to the reported phenomena."


When measuring temperature, investigators check two things: ambient temperature and the temperature of objects. Each requires its own type of sensor. Ambient sensors measure the air around you, while those that measure the temperature of objects are typically infrared point and trigger type thermometers.

  • Most multi-sensor type instruments measure ambient temperature, such as the Digi-Sense calibrated thermometer.
  • To test the temperature of an object, try an infrared (IR) thermometer, such as the Etekcity IR thermometer.
  • Just because temperature changes doesn't mean paranormal activity is present or not present. There are many potential natural world causes for temperature changes, and there is no proof that paranormal entities cause temperature changes.
  • It is important to record changes in temperature, as well as potential causes of temperature changes such as being near a window, drafts, or the turning on and off of HVAC devices.
  • Temperature changes may be of greater significance if they occur in conjunction with other readings and observations, such as a distinct drop in temperature when one notices a cold spot, with a corresponding rise back to normal after a few seconds.
  • It's important to rule out physical causes of temperature changes, such as heating or air conditioning units turning, on or someone opening a window.
  • Watch for rapid and sudden temperature swings of a few degrees, as opposed to fractions of a degree. Some small fluctuations in temperature are normal.
  • Use a thermometer with a digital readout that takes the ambient air temperature when checking for cold sports, etc.

Vibration, Touch, and/or Motion

Many researchers measure vibration and/or motion during paranormal investigations. Vibration or motion, particularly in the absence of movement, such as someone walking or traffic passing outside, may indicate movement of something unseen with the naked eye.

  • A geophone, such as this instrument from Vortex Ghost Gear, measures small changes in vibration. This simple display works well for investigating paranormal activity because it indicates changes with lights. Therefore, you can place it in front of a camera, for example, to note any changes. However, it's also important to place it on a steady surface away from where people will be moving around, because it may detect vibration from footsteps, traffic outside, etc. One good rule of thumb is to establish a baseline by setting it where you plan to set it up and observe it for 20 minutes or so, noting how it reacts when someone walks by, when traffic passes, etc.
  • A strategically placed motion sensor sets off an alarm when something breaks the plane of its infrared sensors, so it's great to set up in an untraveled location to detect whether something is moving around in the space. Test the baseline sensitivity by moving objects in front of the sensor, so you'll know if a fly or rodent might set it off.
  • Trigger objects, like this interactive bear, measure vibration and touch, and many investigators like to use them to detect whether objects are subject to touch, vibration, or motion.

Electromagnetic Frequency

If you watch ghost shows, you've probably heard investigators talk a lot about electromagnetic frequency, or EMF. These meters are standard equipment in most paranormal investigators' kits. However, many people have a fundamental misunderstanding of how or why an EMF detector works.

The theory many have is fluctuations in EMF could indicate a paranormal presence. However, most buildings have levels of EMF in them, from electrical appliances, cellphones, computers, and the like. Therefore, a spike in EMF could indicate someone's cellphone is receiving a text or pinging for a cell tower, or that there's electrical wiring running through a wall nearby. Even keying a walkie-talkie to speak into it can cause sensitive EMF detectors to register a measurement.

  • No scientific evidence exists suggesting EMF changes indicate the presence of a ghost or paranormal entity.
  • EMF detectors, like the K2 meter, are often used as communication devices, with investigators asking a spirit to approach the meter to cause it to light up for yes or to stay away for no answers. While this is flashy and showy, it doesn't necessarily indicate communication, although it might. K2 meters have a sensitive sensor in them, and cellphones frequently cause them to light up.
  • Some meters detect extremely weak EMF, like the Trifield Natural meter. This meter is popular because you can switch it to a magnetic setting where it is less likely to be affected by EMF from appliances and cellphones and more likely to detect very small fluctuations in natural EMF.
  • EMF meters should always be placed on a flat, steady surface before reading them. They can sometimes be affected just by moving them through space.
  • In general, EMF meters are better at ruling out the possibility of paranormal activity by finding a logical explanation for something than they are at detecting such activity.
  • Many investigators believe high levels of EMF from electronics and wiring can cause what's known as a "fear cage," which makes people feel uneasy, uncomfortable, anxious, frightened, or physically ill; all things they could mistake for paranormal activity when there's a logical real-world explanation.


Many investigators like to use environmental sensors that record more than one type of data since it helps them keep their hands free. These devices will often read some or all of the following data.

  • The EDI+ multi-meter and data logger measures ambient temperature, vibration, and it logs the data for download to computer software for further analysis.
  • The Mel Meter, which was designed specifically for paranormal applications, measures EMF and ambient temperature.

Record Audio and Video for Potential Paranormal Anomalies

One theory of paranormal investigation is that sometimes cameras or audio recorders can pick up paranormal activity better than you can by watching or listening. Many investigators use audio recorders and other devices to facilitate communications with spirits. These audio devices include the following.

Audio Recorders

Investigators use audio recorders to attempt to capture electronic voice phenomena, or EVP. While many believe EVP are ghost voices caught on tape, others disagree. EVP occurs when a voice appears on an audio recorder that researchers don't hear when they are recording. While one explanation for this is it may be that ghost voices are responding; however, it could be something else, as well. Theories range from the idea that spirits are attempting to communicate by psychokinetically imprinting their voices on digital media to the idea that one of the living people in the room may be psychokinetically imprinting their voice on the digital medium, according to Parapsychology: A Handbook for the 21st Century. Others suggest EVP is nothing more than errant radio transmissions finding their way to the recording device.

When considering audio recordings as evidence of a ghostly presence, consider the following:

  • The voice should be clear and easy to understand. If it is a whisper or odd sound, the quality is too poor to determine whether it is a voice, someone shuffling their feet, or someone zipping up a jacket.
  • Use a high-definition audio recorder, such as the Zoom H4n, which records high-quality, non-compressed sound. Compression in lower-definition audio recorders can distort sounds and make something sound like a voice speaking words when it is merely an artifact of background noise that went unnoticed during the initial recording session.
  • If you shuffle your feet, sniff, whisper, or make another noise during a recording session, mark it on the recorder by saying, "Mark - I sniffed," etc. Likewise, note if voices from another part of the location bleed over, such as someone laughing in another room. On review, all of these things can create false positives for EVPs if you don't note them.
  • Never whisper during a recording session.
  • Random words or sounds should be discounted. Instead, listen to words and phrases that make sense in the context of questions you are asking or conversations you are having.

Other Communication Devices

There are other communication devices investigators like to use to try to create communication. Because these devices often randomly generate words or phrases, it's important to discard anything that doesn't make sense in the context of a conversation or situation and only consider those that seem answers to questions or make sense given the conversation or context of the situation.

  • Ghost boxes, like the Spirit Box SB7, create a background of white noise by continuously scanning the AM or FM band of a radio. The theory is ghosts can create communication from the scanning of the bands. When working with a ghost box, keep the above suggestions in mind about context, and also be wary of single word answers, which may have bled through from the radio station being scanned.
  • The Ovilus and similar communication devices are programmed with a bank of words and/or phonetic sounds. Investigators use these devices to see if spirits can string together the phonetic sounds or words to communicate with investigators. However, it is important to be discerning when considering this as evidence of the paranormal. Words on an Ovilus by themselves don't necessarily indicate you've detected a ghost since these devices sometimes chatter incessantly. Instead, you're looking for communication with meaning alongside other indicators of possible paranormal activity.

Video and Photography

Many investigators also like to record hours of video and take lots of photographs to uncover potential anomalous results, such as mists, shadows, figures, odd light, or anomalous movements. Some popular equipment includes:

  • Point of view video cameras, like the GoPro, records what you see as you move throughout the space.
  • Hand-held or tripod-mount high-definition cameras can capture and record video.
  • Digital video recorder (DVR systems) connect small, tripod-mounted infrared video cameras to a computerized recording device, so they can record video in dark or daylight conditions in multiple places throughout a single location for later analysis.
  • Full spectrum cameras allow for still photography or video in multiple light conditions. Likewise, many investigators believe the use of full spectrum photography may help them capture images of spirits one is unable to see with the naked eye.
  • Thermal cameras, like this one from FLIR, photograph objects with color changes based on temperature. Many investigators believe this allows them to possibly capture a paranormal figure if its temperature is different from the objects around it.

Review Anomalies Thoroughly

Once you've used the basic equipment and protocols to perform an investigation, you'll need hours to review any data you've collected carefully. Some suggestions for reviewing data:

  • Review in time chunks, working only an hour or so at a time so you don't get fatigued.
  • Look for correlations between evidence using the time stamps. Check data logs, environmental sensors, audio, and video to uncover any incidents that match up with sensor readings or video or audio evidence.
  • Go through any recorded environmental data and note anomalies.
  • It can be helpful to use tracking software, a database, or a spreadsheet so you can easily visualize any correlations between anomalies.
  • Review video twice - once watching the video and once listening to the audio. It's important you focus on only one thing at a time.
  • Toss out any anomalies that could have natural world explanations.
  • For those without easy, natural explanations, see if you can return to the site to test other natural explanations, like someone walking past causing a door to open, etc.
  • Always maintain an attitude of open-minded skepticism. Seek natural explanations before you seek paranormal explanations.
  • Have several more people review any anomalous evidence. Perhaps they can find explanations you haven't thought of.

Follow Up as Needed

Most locations need more than a few hours of investigation, so you may need to follow up and perform multiple investigations at various times of day in different environmental conditions.

Be Responsible in Reporting Paranormal Activity You Detect

As a thorough investigator, you must rule out all possible logical or natural explanations before you reach the conclusion you've detected paranormal activity. This is especially important when dealing with home or business owners, whose entire lives might be affected if you, someone they consider an authority, declares they have a haunted home or business. Therefore, it is incumbent upon you to be as rigorous in your investigation as possible to ensure you don't wrongly proclaim someone's house as haunted when it's just loaded with EMF or has a drafty attic.

Conduct a Thorough Investigation

Carl Sagan said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," and this is especially true in paranormal investigation. While it's exciting to think you might have evidence of a ghost, it's equally important you thoroughly look at the data you've collected from all sources before deciding activity is anomalous. Even then, it's important to remember anomalous activity and readings don't necessarily prove ghosts are present. Rather anomalous readings prove something exists that you can't currently explain given your knowledge and understanding of the situation, your equipment and readings, and natural laws.

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How to Detect Paranormal Activity