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IS THERE ANYONE WITH US NOW; LECTURERS AT CITY UNIVERSITY LEAD TV GHOST INVESTIGATION INTEREST in the paranormal has never been higher. More than one million TV viewers now watch Most Haunted and school leavers are clamouring to study parapsychology at Liverpool Hope University where two of the shows stars teach. Education Reporter Jane Woodhead reports.

Byline: Jane Woodhead

S THE voice of reason on anything even remotely spooky, Matthew Smith, has become something of a household name.

The psychology professor is today a regular face on the Living Television show, Most Haunted.

And when he is not trying to negotiate with people who remain convinced they have experienced ghosts, or a haunted building, Matthew is passing on his skills and knowledge to hundreds of students in Liverpool.

Matthew, who lectures at Liverpool Hope University, has seen an upsurge in the number of students both choosing to study at Liverpool Hope and who then go on to study parapsychology in their third year, since he has been appearing on the programme.

His colleague Ciaran O'Keeffe, a lecturer at Hope, is also a face students recognise.

And he has perhaps built up an even greater fan club than Matthew as the man who goes out on site visits and tries to experience exactly what people are feeling.

Ciaran, 34, admits when he finds himself out on location it is like being a medic in the middle of a battlefield.

"It is a case of not really knowing where to look and which phenomenon to tackle first. There is normally so much going on.

"Sometimes it can be easy to come up with scientific explanations as to why something is happening but when everyone around you is believing something different you can become embroiled in their thoughts," Ciaran said.

And although he does not believe Most Haunted has transformed him into a major celebrity he does acknowledge that the programme has helped him to gain respect.

"Being on the programme has made me more sympathetic to the experiences which people have. It has also made my role as a sceptic much easier.

"I think when people see me and meet me it is easier for them to understand the arguments which I am putting forward. Previously they have probably just regarded me as a stuffy academic sitting in an office.

"Being seen on a weekly basis seems to have helped people to better understand the reasons why there could be a scientific explanation for something."

Despite Matthew coming across on Most Haunted as having even more doubts about paranormal happenings than Ciaran - both psychologists insist they do "see eye-to-eye."

Ciaran added: "It is obviously crucial to remain open-minded at all times but it can be more difficult to see the scientific side and remain calm and objective when you are out on location andso many things are going on around you."

But a sceptical Matthew, 35, insists that even when it would appear there is something paranormal happening, in virtually every case there is a scientific explanation.

"I cannot think of an example where there has been an incident which I have been unable to explain."

He was asked to appear on Most Haunted to try to justify why certain occurrences which people would claim were paranormal, were actually happening. "I would say the majority of things which I have seen on Most Haunted you cannot rule out normal explanations.

"These could be anything from a noise or a creak in a old building which some may believe was a ghostly sound indicating a particular place was haunted. These are, however, likely to be perfectly normal sounds."

Liverpool Hope University has seen the number of students opting to study parapsychology rise from 17 nine years ago, to 80 today Parapsychology is offered to all third year psychology students at as an extra subject Matthew said: "This is a course which is growing in popularity. Psychology is one of the most popular courses at the university and during the last two years we have found an increasing number of students coming to open days and asking us about studying parapsychology.

"I think many of the students relate to us as having appeared in Most Haunted and awareness of the subject is definitely greater as a result of the show."

Dr Lorna Burke, head of psychology, added: "When taster days are held at the university a large number of students engage in conversation about Most Haunted.

"We have also had interest expressed by parents. We believe this could be a reason why people may be encouraged to come to study here.

"I think the fact that we have minor celebrities in the department can also help as prospective students feel they can relate to people here and we come across as a friendly department."

n Anyone who is interested in the psychology department at Liverpool Hope University should contact: 0151-291 3000. Further details from: www.hope.ac.uk and at: www.hopelive.hope.ac.uk/ psychology

MOST Haunted is on Living TV every Tuesday at 9pm. A live, four-night series starts on October 28 with the closing night of the show taking place on Halloween

CAPTION(S):

TV TURNS: Liverpool Hope University lecturers Ciaran O'Keefe (left) and Matthew Smith are part of the Most; Haunted team, with Derek Acorah and Yvette Fielding (right
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 10, 2005
Words:833
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