A damaged wood-burning stove or a leaking chimney can cause us to hallucinate and see strange things.

This is why some houses may seem more haunted than others

“If something is inexplicable, we often call it ‘supernatural’,” researcher says.

Have you heard of a haunted house?

A house where people see, feel, and hear strange things?

If you ask those around you, you might hear more such stories than you expected.

A recurring theme is that the haunted house is old.

Maybe that has something to do with the matter.

Johan Øvrevik is a professor of toxicology and researches air quality at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

Gas that makes you see strange things

“Old houses often have old wood-burning stoves or open fireplaces,” researcher Johan Øvrevik says.

This can lead to more of the gas carbon monoxide (CO) in the air.

The gas is completely tasteless and odourless, and we cannot see it.

It can leak from an open fireplace with poor draft or a chimney that leaks.

“If you inhale enough of the gas, you can feel confused,” he says.

And in some cases, it can make you hallucinate and see inexplicable things.

This gadget can measure if there is CO in the air.

A lot needs to line up

“Could that be an explanation as to why particularly old and abandoned houses seem haunted?”

“There might be something to it,” he says.

At the same time, a lot has to align.

“There has to be a combustion source that leaks enough CO into the house,” he says.

And then you will most likely feel dizzy and get a headache before you start seeing visions.

Old houses also seem creepier and have more creaking sounds.

“That quickly fuels the imagination,” he says.

Lars Birger Davan is a sociologist. He works at OsloMet.

Researched a haunted house

Lars Birger Davan took a closer look at an old and haunted house in a small village in the forest.

There is a grocery store on the ground floor and residences above.

“People often experienced strange things there. They talked about the air inside feeling heavy, and some had headaches,” he says. “They associated it with a certain atmosphere in the house.”

They heard footsteps and felt watched. Products could fly through the air and suddenly lie on the floor.

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    Afraid to seem crazy

    It is possible to use a device to measure if there is CO in the air. They did not do that in the house Davan researched.

    Even though CO can cause us to see strange things, there is no one explanation for all supernatural events.

    Such experiences can also be felt in new houses and out in nature.

    When Davan was doing his research, he noticed one thing in particular, and it had nothing to do with toxic gases.

    “The more stories that emerged, the more people began to share,” he says.

    It could be that people are afraid of appearing crazy. Perhaps they think that others will believe they are lying.

    “But in this place, many had seen the same thing,” he says.

    So, in a way, it became okay to talk about.

    “They held meetings for those who worked in the store. They began discussing the inexplicable events they experienced,” he says.

    Many who worked or lived in the building felt watched by something.

    Be curious

    After starting his research, many came forward with other stories.

    Davan believes we should approach tales of strange events with curiosity and acceptance.

    “Then I believe that more people will be open about experiences they don't fully understand, or find scary and inexplicable,” he says.

    Often, such experiences have a completely natural explanation, but sometimes it is hard to find.

    “Experiences we label as ‘supernatural’ show us that we have the opportunity to connect with our surroundings in wonderful ways,” he says.

    What is truly supernatural?

    Humans have a strong need to find answers.

    “If something is inexplicable, we often call it ‘supernatural’,” Davan says.

    But we could also call it an event or something we just cannot explain.

    “It seems that we humans have made up our minds about this: If it can’t be explained by us, it’s simply not true,” he says. “And then, we might miss out on a lot of exciting things.”


    Translated by Alette Bjordal Gjellesvik.

    Read the Norwegian version of this article on ung.forskning.no

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