The Associated Press
updated 9/7/2003 11:41:25 AM ET 2003-09-07T15:41:25

Mysteriously snuffed out candles, weird sensations and shivers down the spine may not be due to the presence of ghosts in haunted houses but to very low frequency sound that is inaudible to humans. British scientists have shown in a controlled experiment that the extreme bass sound known as infrasound produces a range of bizarre effects in people including anxiety, extreme sorrow and chills — supporting popular suggestions of a link between infrasound and strange sensations.

“NORMALLY YOU can’t hear it,” Richard Lord, an acoustic scientist at the National Physical Laboratory in England who worked on the project, said Monday.

Lord and his colleagues, who produced infrasound with a 23-foot (7-meter) pipe and tested its impact on 750 people at a concert, said infrasound is also generated by natural phenomena.

“Some scientists have suggested that this level of sound may be present at some allegedly haunted sites and so cause people to have odd sensations that they attribute to a ghost — our findings support these ideas,” said Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire in southern England.

REACTIONS TO INFRASOUND

Lord and Wiseman played four contemporary pieces of live music, including some laced with infrasound, at a London concert hall and asked the audience to describe their reactions to the music.

The audience did not know which pieces included infrasound, but 22 percent reported more unusual experiences when it was present in the music.

Their unusual experiences included feeling uneasy or sorrowful, getting chills down the spine or nervous feelings of revulsion or fear.

“These results suggest that low frequency sound can cause people to have unusual experiences even though they cannot consciously detect infrasound,” said Wiseman, who presented his findings to the British Association science conference.

NATURAL PHENOMENON

Infrasound is also produced by storms, seasonal winds and weather patterns and some types of earthquakes. Animals such as elephants also use infrasound to communicate over long distances or as weapons to repel foes.

“So much has been said about infrasound — it’s been associated with just about everything from beam weapons to bad driving. It’s wonderful to be able to examine the evidence,” said Sarah Angliss, a composer and engineer who worked on the project.

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