The funhouse effect & claustrophobia

27th January 2020. Reading Time: 5 minutes Stuff paranormal investigators need to know, General. 2505 page views. 0 comments.

Certain surroundings can make us feel claustrophobic or like we are in a funhouse. Your brain can have trouble processing this and it can cause a person to feel sick, dizzy, like they have vertigo and even induce a feeling like you are being watched. How does the funhouse effect and claustrophobia apply to the paranormal? Could this explain certain experiences?

If you have ever been to a local carnival or 'show' as we call them here in Australia, there is often some sort of funhouse.  One of those places with mirrors that make you look tall then small, then thin, then fat.  Nothing is as it seems and you can stand at one end of the room and seem extremely small yet walk to the other end and be giant that is almost touching the roof.  They are designed to distort your perception of reality.  In order to do this, floors for example are placed at a certain angle so while it seems like the floor is level to the naked eye, it is actually on an incline.  It is basically optical illusions that have come off the paper into our physical world.  Your brain can have trouble processing this and it can cause a person to feel sick and dizzy, like they have vertigo and even induce a feeling like you are being watched.  It has become a common explanation to look towards to explain certain paranormal experiences, particularly with cases in private residences.

How does the funhouse effect apply to the paranormal?

One of the best examples I could think of where this would come into play is a location like the Winchester mystery house.  Winding staircases, doors to nowhere, walls at weird angles, 1/2 levels.   The funhouse effect messes with a person's perception.  Their eyes are telling them one thing, but their physical body and its response are telling another.  For example, the eyes are seeing what appears to be a level floor, but when you walk on the floor it is not level at all.  Your sense of balance is 'tricked' and it can cause a person to become disorientated.  The brain tries to compensate, but your senses and your internal sense of balance can't keep up.  It can make a person feel dizzy or sick.  It can make them feel like they are rocking on a boat.  It can make them feel like they are about to fall over or like they are being pushed.  The disorientation can also make a person feel like they are being watched.

Image Source: Archpaper 

Slanted stairs and odd-shaped ceilings or beams can often cause this sensation.  Certain colour combinations can also have the same effect.  As can being inside a small room - otherwise known as claustrophobia


Claustrophobia is a fear a person has of a confined space.  Have you ever been in an elevator and someone seems intensely anxious?  It is likely they cannot handle being in such a small room.  It is a type of anxiety disorder that can often result in a panic attack which is triggered by being in a small space, often with no windows or air coming in.  There are even reports of people experiencing this just by wearing tight clothing.  It is really a fear of having no escape.

On paranormal investigations, we are often going out of our comfort zone and into locations that we have no seen the inside of before.  How many times do people investigate an old prison or asylum?  Locking a person into a cell can indeed trigger this fear or no escape (especially if you accidentally lock a door).  A person can become panicked, feel sick, agitated, sweaty, and irritable.  It may not be the way they would normally react, but when you have already put yourself in an unknown situation in the dark where your senses are already heightened and you are potentially already on edge.  It can take the slightest thing to tip a person over the edge. Some people may feel that this person is being influenced by a spirit as it is out of character, but it is important to look at the circumstances in full to rule out that they are not having some sort of anxiety.  

Anxiety is a part of human nature

You may think that you are not prone to any sort of anxiety, but we all have it in varying degrees.  It has long been believed that anxiety is a part of being a human

Anxiety was a philosophical concept before it taken up by psychology and psychiatry. The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard (1813-1855) argued that anxiety is part of human nature. Anxiety arises where possibility and actuality come into contact and the present touches the future. Anxiety is a product of having the freedom to make choices and act, and by doing so make a commitment to one’s identity, ways of being in the world, and standing in relation to other people.

Psychology Today

As humans, we all react to different circumstances in different ways.  Our brain is designed to detect us from what it interprets to be dangerous.  This is where a lot of phobias come from.  If your brain detects something it feels is a threat like a funhouse effect or a claustrophobic environment, you go into fight or flight mode.

Fight or flight

Image Source: Wikispaces

When your brain feels like you are in some sort of danger where it feels that you are at risk of harm or attack, it goes into what is called 'hyper-arousal' or 'acute stress response'. It is otherwise known as 'fight or flight mode'. There are a lot of cool things your body does with a lot of big words and medical terms, but all you need to know is that the brain releases a bunch of different hormones that prepare your body to either run for your life or to stay and confront and fight the threat. It was first described in the 1920s by Walter Cannon who was an American physiologist. What is interesting with this is that it is triggered when the brain feels you are at threat. It may be a very real physical threat or it could be imaginary- like in the circumstances mentioned above. We all have different fears and different tolerance levels which is why this mode is extremely personal. What may set one person off, may not bother another person at all. Some people will stand and confront the fear ready to fight and your body has the adrenaline ready with extra energy and strength to help you do so. Others will instinctively run away, and again they have the extra energy and lots of oxygen to help them do that. It all happens within a split second and everyone reacts differently.

Have you experienced the funhouse effect on a case or an investigation?  I think the one thing we can agree on is that the funhouse effect is in fact no fun at all!

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