The Spooky Science Behind Ouija Boards and My Own Encounter with a Spirit Named Samantha

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a fan of horror. In the 90’s, I found a video rental store, when those still existed, that didn’t mind letting me check out a stack of kid-inappropriate scary movies every weekend. When I wasn’t getting my movie monster fix, I was devouring every frightening story my school libary had to offer. Because of this borderline unhealthy obsession, I gained a “fearful fascination” with Ouija boards, among other things.

I once watched a movie where Satan possesses a lamp so lamps are obviously suspect.

Nightmare material

By the way, I’ve had that possessed lamp memory for 20 years, but never checked if it’s real. A quick Google search says yes!

Amityville: The Evil Escapes (1989)

The demonic forces in the haunted Long Island house escape through a mystical lamp which finds its way to a remote California mansion where the evil manipulates a little girl by manifesting itself in the form of her dead father.

That description is both silly and horrifying!

Naturally, I wanted to get my hands on a Ouija board so that I could unlock a portal to the underworld, as normal kids do. One of my friends got a board, probably from Toys R Us, but at the time, I would have believed it magically appeared on her doorstep.

We asked the board countless questions about our past and futures. We assumed it was all knowing, I guess.  It told us how many kids we would have, who we’d marry, when we’d die, and pretty much every major event of our lives. (I wish I remembered the answers to these questions.) Seemed legit enough. Our first time was a fun experience, but no portals were unlocked.

The second time was Linda Blair’s head spinning scary.


We “spoke” to a girl, who told us she was 6 years old and named Samantha. We thought it was so interesting talking to this spirit and hearing all her outworldly knowledge. That is, we enjoyed it until we asked where she was. She spelled out HELL and that Ouija board quickly found its way onto my front porch where my friend and I watched it throughout the night.

Did it move? I think it moved.

Was Samantha real? Were we really speaking to a demon child from hell? And why was Toys R Us selling hell portals?

My friend swore up and down she wasn’t moving the planchette. I didn’t move it either. I was a firm believer in this stuff, after all.

Years after that incident, I decided to see how these boards work. The answer is less creepy than portals and possessed lamps.

Article on Mental Floss

The action of the board can be explained by unconscious movements of those controlling the pointer, a psychophysiological phenomenon known as the ideomotor effect.

The effects of automatic writing, dowsing, facilitated communication, and Ouija boards have been attributed to the phenomenon. Mystics have often attributed these effects to paranormal or supernatural force. Philosophers have concluded that there’s no way to determine whether it’s natural or supernatural.

The Mental Floss article cites a 2012 study from the University of British Columbia. They investigated this effect by having test subjects answer factual yes or no questions both verbally and with a Ouija board. For the Ouija board portion, participants were blindfolded and told they’d be answering with another person, but when the experiment began their partner removed their hands from the planchette. For questions they were unsure about, participants using the Ouija answered correctly 65 percent of the time compared to just 50 percent of the time when responding verbally.

The results suggest people have a “second intelligence” buried in their subconscious mind that can only be accessed under the right conditions. Basically, you may think you don’t know an answer, and would indicate so on a verbal test, but maybe you’ve heard the answer before. Maybe you really do know the answer and it comes out when using the board. Consider the capital of Montana. Do you know what that is? Off the top of my head, I’d say no. When I look it up, I see the answer is Helena and think, “Oh, I knew that!” So if I answered Helena with a Ouija board, it’s not a knowledgable demon child speaking (I hope)–it’s me.

Scientific tests by the English scientist Michael Faraday, Manchester surgeon James Braid, the French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul, and the American psychologists William James and Ray Hyman have demonstrated that many phenomena attributed to spiritual or paranormal forces, or to mysterious “energies”, are actually due to ideomotor action. Furthermore, these tests demonstrate that “honest, intelligent people can unconsciously engage in muscular activity that is consistent with their expectations”.

So even though I swear I didn’t move the planchette, it was likely my horror-obsessed subconsious that created the Samantha persona. I expected a Ouija board to unlock a Hell portal; I expected a frightening experience–so that is the experience my subconscious provided. To this day, I will tell you I didn’t move the planchette. I honestly placed my fingers on it as lightly as possible and cleared my mind after every question. But the science says that isn’t quite what happened.

Or, there’s a demon child named Samantha laughing at my conclusions.



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