How Do Ouija Boards Really Work?

Photo: Stephen French/Alamy Stock Photo.

In what was already a very witchy episode of The Bachelor — voodoo, tarot cards, and ghosts, oh my — last night's group date to a haunted mansion in New Orleans was the perfect centerpiece. Activities included messing with potentially possessed dolls, wandering the halls with nothing but a lantern and a glass of wine, and attempting to reach the other side through a Ouija board.

While using the Ouija board, the women asked if the house's famous ghostly resident could give them any clue as to the outcome of the upcoming rose ceremony, and they felt the planchette move, perhaps toward the letter "D." Low and behold, at the end of the night, Danielle M. won the group date rose and immunity for the rose ceremony next week.

If this mildly spooky scene stoked your curiosity about the mysterious talking board, you're not alone. Sure, the creepy board may not seem as complicated as "planned dancing," but there's actually a scientific explanation for how it works, and it may just demystify the Ouija board once and for all.

The thing is, there's a very clear desired outcome when playing with a Ouija board: You're looking for an answer to your question. And if we want something bad enough, we'll find a way to get it — or we'll convince ourselves that we got it. A 2007 paper found that, if we don't remember an event perfectly, we tend to pepper in details that we wanted to be there in our retelling, even if they weren't there in reality.

So, if we manage to move the planchette, we'll later tell ourselves that something magical happened. But, of course, there's a little more to it than that.

The ideomotor effect refers to people making unconscious or unintentional movements because they want an object to move, and it's often used to explain how Ouija planchettes glide across the board. Researchers put this claim to the test with a study that had blindfolded participants sit at a Ouija board and answer factual questions. They were each paired with another person and told that they had their hands on the planchette, too — but their partners would remove their hands as soon as the test started.

As they answered the questions, the participants indeed moved the planchette on their own, though they said they didn't feel themselves moving. Beyond that, they answered more questions correctly while using the Ouija board than they did when asked the same questions without the board. The researchers took these findings to mean that, yes, unconscious movements do play a role in how Ouija boards work.

But don't let that ruin the magic for you. For all we know, the board that the group played on the group date was imbued with the spirits of Bachelors past, sending urgent messages straight to Nick. Either way, we can only hope that Chad is trapped in a crystal ball somewhere, unable to exert his malevolent energy over our dear, sweet Beard Hunk.