A device called the “God Helmet” has been said to induce “extraordinary experiences” in the wearer. However, this device is nothing more than a souped-up hat.
Can a fake God helmet induce visions in the wearer?
The placebo effect is a psychological phenomenon in which a person perceives an event due to his or her expectations, not because the event actually occurred. For example, a person may take a placebo pill that doesn’t really do anything, yet still experience an improvement in his or her condition because that improvement is expected. However, the pill technically doesn’t work.
The God Helmet is an interesting psychology tool that works much like a placebo pill. It apparently has the ability to evoke mystical experiences—visions, hallucinations, feelings of a mysterious “presence”—even though it’s really just an ordinary helmet. However, wearers have been led to believe that the helmet is more than that. The helmet ostensibly has the ability to electromagnetically stimulate brains and induce spiritual experiences, but it’s actually all a sham.
A participant wearing the study's God helmet [Photo by Davd Maij/University of Amsterdam]
Researchers at the University of Amsterdam went to a three-day music festival called Lowlands and recruited 193 people to participate in their study. The participants were asked to wear the helmet as well as a blindfold and earbuds that played white noise. The helmet itself was actually a skate helmet outfitted with wires that connected to bogus medical equipment that was never actually turned on. Each participant sat with the helmet, blindfold, and earbuds on for 15 minutes. They were then asked to click a mouse whenever they thought they experienced something mystical.
The participants reported interesting experiences. They reported bodily sensations like the feeling of floating, itching, dizziness, an increased heart rate, as well as involuntary movements. Some reported that they saw various images and heard voices during the 15 minutes of wearing the helmet.
“I came loose from the chair, the chair fell and I was floating,” narrated one participant. “The desk started to shake heavily and I felt the presence of a dark figure next to me. It whispered something in my ear that I could not understand.”
According to the results, people who identified themselves as spiritual were more likely to report these experiences than those who were not spiritual. 78.5 percent of the participants felt a weak bodily sensation, while 30.1 percent felt strong sensations. 30.3 percent, however, only felt distracted or skeptical.
Is a music festival the best venue for a study of this nature?
73.2 percent, meanwhile, had consumed alcohol on the same day as the experiment, while 16.8 percent consumed both alcohol and at least one type of narcotic. 2.6 percent did not consume alcohol but did consume at least one type of narcotic, while 7.4 percent did not consume alcohol or narcotics at all.
According to the researchers, it seemed that alcohol consumption did not increase the likelihood that a person would have mystical experiences while wearing the helmet. Even so, however, the setting of the study itself wasn’t the best, as the researchers themselves admitted. Conducting a study at a music festival wasn’t optimal, and the average participant in their study had consumed relatively little alcohol. "Under more controlled lab settings we may still find an effect of alcohol, or an interaction between alcohol and spirituality," said David Maij, one of the researchers.
Get weekly science updates in your inbox!