Scientific research has found that spiritual mediums may be more prone to immersive mental activities and unusual auditory experiences than other people in their early years. This explains why some people adopt spiritualist beliefs and can “hear the dead”, according to the study carried out by Durham University. Individuals grieving after the loss of loved ones often turn to online psychic consultations offered by mediums to find comfort and solace. Psychic readings can also help some people cope with their worries and mental health issues.

Hearing the dead, which is also known as “clairaudient communication”, is similar to clairvoyance, which is seeing spirits, and clairsentience, which pertains to feeling or sensing spirits in close proximity. Durham University conducted its study by surveying 65 clairaudient mediums from the Spiritualists’ National Union (SNU). The survey also included 143 members of the general population, which makes this scientific study the largest one to date to investigate the experiences of clairaudient spiritualists.

One of the main findings of the research is that spiritual mediums are more inclined to absorption than other people, which is a trait linked to immersion in mental or imaginative thinking or experiences of altered consciousness. Mediums are also more likely to have unusual auditory experiences, such as hearing voices, generally occurring early in their lives. Those who experienced absorption or heard voices came to embrace spiritualist beliefs during their active search for the meaning behind what they were hearing.

Researchers from Durham University found that, for the general population, spiritual experiences associated with absorption were linked to spiritual beliefs. However, the study’s results also showed that spiritual beliefs weren’t necessarily significantly related to proneness to hallucinations. There were also no significant differences between spiritualists and non-spiritualists in terms of their superstitious beliefs or proneness to visual hallucinations.

Spiritualists gained interest in the paranormal only after they developed or experienced anomalous phenomena. This experience stimulated their curiosity, enhanced their abilities, and urged them to search for meaning in what they had encountered. What’s more, around 57% of the participants also stated that they had an earlier “spiritual” experience before their first clairaudient experience.

Spiritualism is a movement that has been progressively on the increase year on year in Britain. This religious movement has resulted in the establishment of several organisations that support, train, and offer other services to practising mediums, some of whom provide online psychic consultations. As one of the largest organisations of its type, the Spiritualists’ National Union states that it has at least 11,000 members throughout the UK. Members participate in activities such as training in the organisation’s colleges, centres, and churches.

Experts from Durham University comprehensively researched the way in which spiritualists experience hearing voices. They compared the absorption levels, hallucination-proneness, aspects of their identity, and belief level in the paranormal of participants.

Approximately 44.6% of those spiritualists responding to the survey said that they hear the voices of the deceased on a daily basis. A large majority of participants said that the experience of auditory spiritual communications is part of their everyday lives, and events can occur when they are alone, working as professional mediums, or attending their churches.

Most of the responding participants who did hear voices said that the experience happens inside their heads. However, 37.1% of participants stated that they perceive the voices both inside and outside of their heads. Higher absorption levels and a greater propensity towards auditory experiences were related to the frequent practice of clairaudient communications. Those participants who practised the skill and were more aware of it were more likely to hear voices throughout the day.

The data from the general population of participants showed that the phenomenon of absorption was associated with belief levels in the paranormal. However, there was no particular correlation between the levels of superstitious belief and proneness to hallucinations overall; nor were spiritualists any more likely to hold superstitious beliefs or be prone to visual hallucinations than non-spiritualists.

Another area researched was the age of participants when they first experienced clairaudience. Spiritualists reported that they started hearing the voices of the deceased at an average of 21.7 years. However, 18% of participants stated that they had had such experiences for as long as they can remember. A total of 71% of participants had not encountered the spiritualism movement before they had their first experience.

The findings also revealed that spiritualists did not worry overly about what other people thought of them – more so than non-spiritualists. The researchers suggest that their findings demonstrate that experiencing spirit communications is not linked to any level of belief in the paranormal; giving into societal pressure or learning to have specific expectations.

The common characteristic in the participants is rather their unique predisposition to absorption and the increased likelihood of reporting that they had had unusual auditory experiences earlier in their lives. Many of the individuals have gone onto embrace spiritual beliefs precisely because the principles and teachings align with the experiences they have undergone.

Dr Adam Powell of Durham University’s Department of Theology and Religion and lead researcher in the Hearing the Voice Project said that the findings say a lot about the nature of ‘learning and yearning’. The participants are drawn to Spiritualism because the movement’s tenets seem to make sense of their extraordinary childhood experiences and the frequent auditory phenomena they encounter as practising mediums.

The experiences they have are due to certain tendencies and early abilities rather than simply a wish to believe in being able to communicate with the dead. Although a belief in the supernatural is considered by the research, it does not, in fact, greatly affect what individuals have experienced before gaining knowledge from joining spiritualist organisations.

Dr Peter Mosely of Northumbria University and a co-author of the study said that spiritualists tend to report these unusual experiences happening at an early age and can often thereafter control the experiences. This could help illuminate understanding of situations where other individuals are distressed by, or cannot control, incidents in which they hear voices.

The researchers at Durham will now further investigate clairaudience and mediumship in order to gain a greater understanding of how individuals experience such meaningful and unusual events.

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