The Science of Ouija Boards

Friday October 31, 2014 Written by Kane

Don’t get spooked this Halloween: the mysterious force controlling your Ouija board comes from the psychological within rather than the paranormal without. It’s called the ideomotor effect and its not so different to the way tears can well up in your eyes when experiencing strong emotion even though you didn’t consciously summon them. Throw in some crowd psychology and sputtering candles and you’ve got a recipe for hair-raising responses from your long-deceased Grandma Flo.

The object itself may not have emerged from the shadowy occult, but that's not to say it doesn’t have an interesting history. The Kennard Novelty Company patented the talking board on May 28, 1890 in an attempt to capitalise on the fad for spiritualism that existed at the time. And capitalise they did; by the time Parker Brothers bought the game over two million boards were sold.

Though finding out what’s up with Kurt Cobain right now is probably not going to happen, Ouijas still have the capability to help us explore the unknown. Researchers are currently exploiting its effects to explain the genuinely mysterious realm of non-conscious thought, like  how people can answer things without thinking of the answer. Spooky.

The full, fascinating story is at the Smithsonian.