The Strange Ties Between Low-Frequency Sound And Ghost Sightings

By Kristin Lovett on Wednesday, September 3, 2014
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“My people too were scared with eerie sounds, / A footstep, a low throbbing in the walls, / A noise of falling weights that never fell” —Alfred Tennyson, The Ring

In A Nutshell

It’s called infrasound: This refers to a sound which has a frequency lower than 20 khz. This frequency is at the very bottom of the typical human range of hearing, and while it may not always be processed as sound, the body certainly registers it unconsciously. This can lead to some very strange reactions and may be linked to ghost sightings.

The Whole Bushel

Hearing is a very interesting facet of the human brain. After all, sound is just a wave of energy, which you can actually draw on paper in the form of a sine wave. It is rather remarkable to think, then, that your brain can register these waves and convert them into meaningful information. Most humans have a hearing range from approximately 20 Hz to approximately 20,000 Hz.

Things get weird when you approach these limits of human hearing. Hitting the high frequencies can be damaging to the eardrum, but these high frequencies are not very common in nature. The lower end of the scale, however, is quite common in the modern world we inhabit. The sounds of trains passing and wind blowing are often enough to create the ultra-low-frequency infrasounds. They were first studied properly in the ’60s by a French scientist. He discovered the effects of the sound while in his laboratory: He and many of his assistants reported pain in their ears and heightened feelings of anxiety.

When a human is exposed to these sounds, things start to happen psychologically. Experiment participants report feeling chills, a sense of anxiety often tied to the feeling of being watched, and inexplicable sadness. It’s as if these sounds impart a set of human emotions and fears into the minds of the listener that are not their own. In addition to this, many people report slight hallucinations in their peripheral vision, usually the form of a gray blob, causing them to be very wary of their surroundings. This leads to the theory that these infrasounds can be often linked with areas where ghost sightings are frequent, as the common effects of infrasound are similar to the alleged presence of a ghost. This association likely has something to do with the way we regard thunderstorms and other natural events as frightening (sort of a no-brainer, considering how dangerous they are). The low-frequency sounds they generate make us more alert and worried, which makes sense in terms of survival.

Measurements taken at such places have often showed the presence of such frequencies, but not enough experimentation has been done to say anything conclusively. Some of the best research done on this subject was performed by university lecturer Vic Tandy. He was one of the first people to propose a link between infrasound and the paranormal. He measured the presence of infrasound in various locations, including the reputedly haunted London Underground. He also concluded that the main frequency that produced these effects was 19 Hz, where many people may not consciously register that they are hearing sound.

The only thing that remains is to explain why this is the case. Predictably, explanations vary and are largely speculative. The main idea remains similar throughout: This is that humans evolved to be agitated and frightened by low sounds, which would be useful in avoiding danger such as avalanches or storms. Whatever the reason, it is undeniable that low-frequency sound causes strange feelings in a large amount of humans.

Show Me The Proof

Frequency Range of Human Hearing
Reuters: Sounds like terror in the air
Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Vic Tandy on Ghosts and Infrasound

  • Clyde Barrow

    It has been speculated that animals get the same “sensation”, possibly from low frequency sound, in the first few seconds of an earthquake right before the S-waves hit. Hence why they’re spooked before an earthquake ‘hits’.

    • Lisa 39

      Well shit Clyde, I thought it was because they’re psychic!

      • Clyde Barrow

        If your animals are psychic, you’re living in a Stephen King novel….RUN!

        • Lisa 39

          Damn it, the cats have to go, I want a dog again.

          • oouchan

            Sending my dog..have fun! 😀

          • Lisa 39

            Thanks Chicky!

          • Clyde Barrow

            No-no. Cats rule…dogs drool. 😉

          • Lisa 39

            Then you can have my cats! I’ll mail them today!

          • Clyde Barrow

            No thanks! I already have my hands full with 3 cats, and two horses. Plus it’s Football season now, so I’ll be drinking heavily…no time for more pets!

          • Lisa 39

            Fine fine fine, then they’re going to live with oouchan! But I’ll be over for beer and football!

          • Clyde Barrow

            Sweet! I wonder if my lousy team plays your lousy team. (Assuming you’re a Browns fan.)

          • Lisa 39

            Well yes I am, and yes they have been rather lousy but I’m a diehard fan, even through the shame :'( who’s your lousy team?

          • oouchan

            Yours just beat mine in the preseason so, they aren’t all bad. 🙂

          • Lisa 39

            O sure we’re great in preseason but then the season starts and they fall apart, crybabies.

          • Clyde Barrow

            I’m one of America’s 14 Jacksonville Jaguars fans. An exclusive club for lovable losers and fans of mediocre football. But I’ve been a fan since ’96…there’s no turning back now.

          • Lisa 39

            Then we’re in the same boat, sigh, gotta love our teams :/ (that was an attempt to smile)

          • Hillyard

            SEAHAWKS!

          • Lisa 39

            Here we go brownies here we go whoop whoop!

          • oouchan

            I get the cats! Already on my way to the crazy cat lady stage with 4 of them.

          • Lisa 39

            O good, Clyde doesn’t want them so they’re all yours! Should I put holes in these boxes? They’re little kitties so they don’t need much air ;D

          • oouchan

            haha!

          • Joseph

            What do crazy old men buy?

          • oouchan

            Viagra.

          • Joseph

            I’m crazy and old, but I don’t need Viagra. On second thought, maybe I should take some just because it might help somehow.

          • Hillyard

            Wie bitte? My dog can go cute for cute with any mangy cat.

          • Lisa 39

            Your dog is cute!

  • Hillyard

    Good article. This was already covered in a LV list some time ago. It was also shown that infrasound can cause hallucinations as our eyes vibrate at about 20 Hz.

  • http://www.seguebythesea.com/ segue

    I wantd to read the link Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Vic Tandy…, but got this message: Paper cannot be downloaded or displayed due to robots…

    What?!?!?

  • freedom_is_good

    What a pants load. Sound “lower” than 20Hz is perceived as non-continuous. If you snap your fingers once per second, that’s 1Hz. Drum your fingers on a table and you can get close to 20Hz. Or imagine one person clapping and being joined by additional people until the clapping becomes the continuous sound of applause. That would be equivalent to the upward sweep of a sine wave from 1Hz past 20Hz. That’s roughly the point at which the individual sounds run together and are perceived as a single continuous sound, rather than individual sounds. Sounds at the upper end of 20kHz do not damage hearing because of their frequency. Amplitude (volume) can damage hearing. High frequency sounds with moderate amplitude are no more damaging than any other frequency at the same amplitude. These sounds are present every day, yet we simply don’t “hear” them. You could have a friend stand in the next room and blow a “silent” dog whistle and pause and the average person wouldn’t notice any difference between when the whistle started and ended.