Toy story: Mystery of Ouija board solved


Danziger's ad in the Pisttsburgh DispatchDanziger’s at Sixth and Penn — “always the first to introduce any new novelty” — called it The Wonderful Talking Board in an advertisement in the Feb. 1, 1891, Pittsburg Dispatch.

“For the scientific or thoughtful,” the department store said, the Ouija board’s “mysterious movements invite the most careful research and investigation.”

You don’t suppose the copywriter got help from the spirit world? Because more than a century after the board game became popular in American households, reports, scientists are examining what makes Ouija boards work. That is, what (or W-H-O) makes the pointer move?

I’ll admit I’ve always found Ouija boards kinda creepy. I’d rather talk to the living, thanks.

The few times that I’ve “played” the game, I assumed that it was the “other guy” who was moving the pointer around the board.

Not so, say University of British Columbia researchers, it’s Y-O-U.

Ron Rensink, a professor of psychology and computer science who studied what happens when people sit down to use a Ouija board, has proved that our unconscious is moving the pointer.

When you take the same route home every day, it sometimes seems like the car is driving itself. That’s an example of unconscious behavior, Rensink told Metro last year.

Participants in Rensink’s study were asked yes-or-no factual questions.

When they answered verbally, guessing to the best of their ability, they were right 50 percent of the time. But when they answered via the Ouija board, believing that the answers were coming from “the other guy,” they got the right answers 65 percent.

To learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the strange history of the Ouija board but were afraid to ask the spirit world, read  Linda Rodriguez McRobbie in Smithsonian Magazine.