What is the sense of presence?

Many of the paranormal experiences can be explained through the sense of presence. Let’s see what this is about.

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Elena Sanz on November 10, 2021.

Last update: November 10, 2021

We have all experienced that feeling that there is someone in the room when it is actually empty. Also, that someone is following us or spying on us while we do something. Some associate these experiences with paranormal situations, but in reality they are explained through the sensation of presence.

The sense of presence often provokes feelings of anguish, terror, and anxiety. It is more common than we think and is often related to a sensory perception disorder. That is, when one is a little more sensitive than the general population in terms of the way in which the senses are assimilated. Let’s see from the scientific point of view what exactly is the feeling of presence.

Characteristics of the sense of presence

Despite the paranormal and even religious connotations of the sensations of presence, scientists bet on neurological theories that explain them.

There is a consensus among researchers that all human behaviors and experiences are explained through chemical and electromagnetic processes in the brain. That is, everything you can see, feel or do is due to multiple complex processes in your brain.

This happens, how could it be otherwise, by paranormal experiences. Among all these stands out what is known as sense of presence. This is the feeling of not being alone in a room that is known to be empty. For example, feeling that someone is behind us or that someone is watching us.

Although of course these experiences can occur in people who have a diagnosed mental disorder (psychosis, schizophrenia and others), in reality the feeling of presence is something that affects the general population. These sensations can be explained from two aspects: perceptual distortions and perceptual delusions.

It is understood by perceptual distortion to a real or tangible stimulus that the brain misinterprets or misinterprets when encoding it. That is, there is something that is causing the reaction, but by not being able to interpret it, the brain quickly looks for an association to explain it (a ghost, for example).

For their part, perceptual delusions they are associations without there being a direct or real reference. The latter distinguishes it from the previous case, since in this case there are stimuli. Most cases of sense of presence are perceptual distortions. Let’s look at two examples.

Low frequency sounds

The human ear can decode sound frequencies ranging from 20 to 20,000 Hz. Although we cannot perceive stimuli below 20 Hz, this does not mean that the brain does not react to them.

Researchers agree that infrasound can cause physiological excitations. It is known that they can trigger stimuli in the order of suspense and amazement; as well as conditioning people to be scared more easily.

Almost anything can generate low-frequency sounds, such as the pipes in a residence or natural events. Keep in mind that sound is a wave, and this can excite your vestibular system and your eye to make you feel or see things that are unrelated to reality.

Electromagnetic stimulations

Michael Persinger is an authority on the study of brain stimulations as explanations for unexplained or paranormal events. Together with his team, he demonstrated that the electromagnetic stimulations recreated in a laboratory generated the same experience of those who claim to have felt the presence of a non-corporeal being.

In other words, many of the cases of a sense of presence can be explained in this way. Weak electromagnetic stimulations can generate fear symptoms that in the right circumstances can even lead to hallucinations. Practically everything that surrounds us generates these waves: electrical appliances, transformers, low, medium and high voltage lines and many more.

As a curiosity, one of the classic instruments of a paranormal investigator is a device that detects electromagnetic fields. Even some natural phenomena, such as thunderstorms, can generate them naturally.

These are just two examples that can cause a sense of presence, with which we interact every day. As for perceptual delusions, the best example is that of sleep paralysis. It has been documented for years that it is capable of generating very realistic hallucinations.

Is the sense of presence a disorder?

Anyone can go through a sense of presence without suffering from a mental condition. It is completely natural and can be exacerbated in certain situations.

No, not all cases of presence sensation can be defined as a mental disorder or perception disorder. As we have seen, there are many real stimuli that you cannot see or perceive with the naked eye that may be behind this sensation.

It is also possible that your senses are sharper than most. For example, that you have a highly developed vestibular system that is sensitive to stimuli around you. An almost imperceptible gust of wind, the noise of an insect or your own spatial orientation can make you believe that there is someone or something in an empty room.

It is also important to note the context of the sense of presence. If it is an old, dark, dusty, cold or dark place, it is much more likely that you will manifest this experience. Suggestion also plays an important role, as some studies indicate that it alone can explain many supposedly paranormal testimonies.

Of course, permanent experiences can also be related to a mental disorder. Specifically, temporary or permanent psychotic disorders can be hidden behind these. The abuse of hallucinogenic substances and the excessive consumption of alcohol can also increase the cases of sense of presence.

In any case, you should know that it is a natural experience, very common and that it has several explanations. All of these can be answered from a scientific point of view. If you think there is a greater cause for them, do not hesitate to seek professional help.

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