Spirits fortify office gossips in quest to shock colleagues

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 March, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 March, 2001, 12:00am

Ghost stories and other apocryphal tales of the unexpected stem from a fear of uncertainty - and a desire to be first with the office gossip, a psychologist said yesterday.

Professor Leung Jin-pang of the Chinese University said blaming mysterious happenings on the supernatural was an easy way of explaining them away, and a good way to impress colleagues and friends.

'Human beings, by their nature, do not like uncertainty, so when something happens they may try to find out information in a civilised way, or they dream up some other explanation,' he said.

'Most of the time, with mystical things like people going missing and then reappearing, that fits in with stories of ghosts.

'Once we've done that, we feel we're in better control of the situation because we have an explanation. It'll make people feel more comfortable to get on with their work.'

Professor Leung said ghost stories often surfaced during times of transition, when people felt nervous or uncertain about what they were doing.

'For instance, people move from one country to another and sometimes they get sick, maybe because they're not used to the bacteria, but they think it's because they're infringing on some sort of mysterious entity.

'For Chinese in Hong Kong, we still have very traditional thinking about things like fung shui and supernatural kinds of power, so a lot of the time people try to get peace of mind and think maybe they should do things like this because other people do.

'And if something goes missing or you're getting sick, it can be easily explained by supernatural power and nobody will blame you. It's an easy way out.' Professor Leung said such stories were passed on and embellished so people could shock their colleagues and feel they had the upper hand in the gossip stakes.

'People want to be in control, and when you have these stories under your belt and tell people about them, there's a kind of superiority.

'Things tend to get added on as the story is told; people add details to it. It's often caused by people's imagination running a bit wild.

'But people also like to see other people's reaction and they feel that they have the inside story while others don't - it's a boost to our self-image.'

As to whether ghost stories were rooted in fact or were pure conjecture, Professor Leung said: 'A lot of these things depend on your perception, rather than 'the truth out there'. There's no objective reality.'