How an EMF Meter Works and Its Paranormal Purpose

Updated June 29, 2021
Electromagnetic Field Detector

If you've ever watched a ghost show, you're probably familiar with the EMF meter. It's a common tool in a paranormal investigation toolbox, but many people are confused about its purpose. You may be surprised to learn that while EMF meters are popular paranormal equipment, they do not detect ghosts. Learn more about what this environmental sensor is and why it is used.

What Is an EMF Detector?

EMF stands for electromagnetic field. EMF meters detect electromagnetic energy in the area. To understand how an EMF meter works, it helps to know that one of the universe's four basic forces, electromagnetism, occurs when electric current changes or moves. Stronger currents give off higher EMF readings. While you cannot see electromagnetic fields, they are often present in the atmosphere from natural, electrical, and magnetic sources.

Powered objects such as video and audio equipment, cell phones, and clock radios give off electromagnetic energy when a current flows. Likewise, power lines, outlets, and other common electrical items all generate EMF. Many natural sources of EMF exist as well, such as the charging of the atmosphere during a lightning storm.

EMF Meters

EMF meters detect the presence of electromagnetic energy via one or more antennae that measure varying types of current such as AC or DC. When electromagnetism is present, the meter registers a reading. The strength of the reading depends on the strength of the frequency.

EMF meters are quite simple, so there isn't much of a learning curve for how to read one. Most contain either a digital or analog readout and an on/off switch. Some have a series of lights in place of an analog or digital indicator. When there is no EMF present, no lights will be lit, there will be a "0" on the digital indicator, or the needle will be in the starting position over a reading of zero for an analog display. When EMF is present, the display will indicate through the presence of lights, movement of the needle towards higher numbers on the display, or with a higher number reading on a digital display. Meters may indicate a large or small amount of EMF.

Uses in Paranormal Investigation

Many paranormal investigators use EMF meters as one of an array of environmental sensors. These investigators take baseline environmental measurements in an allegedly haunted location, which may include readings such as temperature, humidity, and electromagnetic energy. Then, throughout the course of the investigation, investigators watch for unexplained changes in the environmental data that appears to correspond with possible paranormal activity.

EMF Ghost Detector?

There is a common misconception that EMF meters detect the presence of ghosts. Currently, no science backs up this assertion. Some investigators do notice anomalous EMF readings that occur concurrently with unexplainable activity. However, this evidence remains anecdotal with no basis in hard science.

A change in an EMF reading does not necessarily show a ghost is nearby, even in the presence of possible paranormal activity. Instead, it remains one more data point that may help measure anomalous activity. In order for this correlation to become a scientifically valid indicator of ghosts, a controlled, peer-reviewed scientific study needs to prove it is so. Thus far, no one has been able to prove or disprove the EMF-ghost hypothesis.

Ghost hunting: measuring paranormal activity

Why Paranormal Investigators Use EMF Meters

Despite the lack of scientific evidence backing up their usefulness in detecting ghosts, paranormal investigators frequently use EMF meters during investigations. They may do so for a number of reasons.

High EMF May Cause Weird Sensations

Finding high levels of EMF in an allegedly haunted location may suggest a logical explanation for reports of possible paranormal experiences. For example, some studies have shown that high EMF may affect melatonin, which plays key roles in sleep regulation. High levels of EMF in a home may provide a logical explanation for why family members experience sleep disturbances they erroneously associate with paranormal activity. Likewise, individuals who are hypersensitive to EMF may display a whole host of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms that may be wrongly attributed to paranormal activity.

Possible Correlations With Spirit Activity

Anecdotal evidence from paranormal investigators does seem to suggest a possible correlation between spikes on an EMF meter and the presence of ghosts, but the correlation remains highly speculative and relies on a number of assumptions. While there is no scientific proof of this correlation, it still remains interesting and provides investigators with another data point to evaluate.

Doing What They See on Television

Some paranormal investigators use EMF meters because they see them used on television on shows like Ghost Hunters, or because they see other teams using them. In fact, the EMF meter is often misused in paranormal investigation, because many ghost hunters mistakenly believe that the meters detect the presence of ghosts.

Limitations of Meters

While EMF meters can be a valuable tool in the paranormal investigator's arsenal, you should always be aware of the limitations of this equipment.

Sensitive to Environmental Factors

Many EMF meters are extremely sensitive to cell phone activity. Cell phones pulsing to find a tower, incoming calls or texts, and other cell phone activity can cause the meters to register a reading. Therefore, when using EMF meters in paranormal investigation, you should always make sure all cell phones are turned off.

Other Equipment May Cause False Positive

Other pieces of paranormal equipment, such as two-way radios, can also cause EMF meters to register a reading. Test your meter with other pieces of equipment you carry to determine how it reacts in the presence of that equipment. For example, stand a few feet away from the meter with a two-way radio and key the talk switch. Watch to see if the meter's reading changes. This will help you better understand your equipment and allow you to remove sources of false readings.

Measurement of electromagnetic radiation

Environmental Data Requires a Baseline

EMF data is useless if you do not take and record baseline readings. Without an awareness of the baseline readings of a location before you investigate it, any subsequent readings are meaningless because there is nothing to which you can compare it. Always take the baseline readings under the exact same conditions in which you intend to investigate (such as lights on or off, etc.).

They Aren't Ghost Detectors

EMF meters do not detect ghosts. Rather, they measure changes in the electromagnetic field in the area. Therefore, use extreme caution when drawing conclusions about the meaning of anomalous EMF readings that occur during the course of an investigation. Never use readings as the sole evidence to "prove" a haunting.

They're Motion Sensitive

Many EMF meters are sensitive to motion, and they will register a reading if you move them. To avoid this, lay the meter on a flat surface and do not move it. Allow it to settle before taking a reading.

EMF Meters and Evidence of Ghosts

While EMF meters are a popular piece of ghost hunting equipment, they do not detect the presence of ghosts or other paranormal entities. In fact, no scientifically valid equipment exists that can prove or disprove ghosts exist. Instead, paranormal investigators rely on an array of different tools to provide data to help them show that something anomalous is occurring.

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How an EMF Meter Works and Its Paranormal Purpose