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Ouija Boards

September 21, 2010

The Claims:

Ouija boards are used by spiritualists as a method of supposedly communicating with the dead. Boards are inscribed with the letters of the alphabet, plus a few simple words such as “yes” and “no”. Users hold a pointer which is claimed to move under the influence of spirits to spell out answers to questions.

The Evidence:

“Talking boards” have been around since ancient times used by primitive cultures to contact the spirit world.  The Ouija board is a trademarked game patented in the late 19th century and currently sold by Parker Brothers.  It is often used generically to refer to any talking board, in the same way “Kleenex” is used in reference to tissue paper. The name possibly comes from the French and German words for “yes”.

There has never been a proven paranormal usage of Ouija boards under scientifically controlled conditions.

The movement of the pointer (or planchette) is easily explained:

  • Users deliberately move the planchette, generally to heighten the effect, though sometimes cynically for profit making purposes
  • The planchette is moved reflexively by way of the ideomotor effect, a psychological phenomenon wherein a person makes motions unconsciously.

The ideomotor effect can be demonstrated.  When a test subject is properly blindfolded prior to using a Ouija board, motion may still occur, but only unintelligible gibberish is produced.

Conclusion:

There is no evidence to support that Ouija boards are anything other than painted pieces of wood. The supernatural effects are entirely due to psychological effects of the users.

Links:

Wikipedia Page on Ouija

Wikipedia Page on Ideomotor Effect

The Skeptic’s Dictionary Entry on Ideomotor Effect

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