Many psychics claim to be able to see auras. Many healing methods like reiki are based on them.

Psychics claim that if you look at someone with soft eyes, you can see a hazy field around them, white at first, which with practice becomes colourful and more detailed. They claim this is the aura.

Is there any proof of auras? If not, is there a way you could explain why some people would see an 'aura'?

An aura is claimed to be a physical field: 

Main Entry: au·ra
Pronunciation: \ˈȯr-ə\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin, puff of air, breeze, from Greek; probably akin to Greek aēr air
Date: 1694
4 : an energy field that is held to emanate from a living being


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    James Randi tests an "aura reader" (YouTube video)
    – Oliver_C
    Commented Jan 19, 2012 at 13:07
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    I still think this needs a claim that the aura is a real and physical thing rather than a metaphysical thing. The definition is describing the believe in a metaphysical thing with the word held. Making the definition sound less objectionable does not change my objection to the question.
    – Chad
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 15:34
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    Given the claims about auras vary so much, I think it would be appropriate to choose one claim for us to address. For example, if the claim relates to Kirlian photography we can address that. If it relates to the claims of "James", then James Randi addresses that.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 22:51

2 Answers 2


As far as I am aware there have been no empirical studies that give even the slightest indication that auras exist.

Pyshcics who claims to be able to detect auras have been tested somewhat informally, never doing better than chance and sometimes doing worse. One notable example may be when James Randi tested a person claiming to read auras and that person did only slightly better than what would be expected by chance.

Another more indepth scientific study took place with four screens as well as a control group. Ten people claiming to see auras and 9 people making no such claim were selected, with all 19 having to guess behind which of the four screens the test subject was placed. At almost 1500 trials the control group did slightly better than the group claiming to see auras.

It stands to reason that anything visible to certain humans should be observable objectively with various tools and equipment. To date there has been no successful detection of anything aura like.

Perhaps a more likely explanation is the condition Synaesthesia in which people can see colors in response to various stimuli. Of interest however is a study that seems to show that the claims of aura-seers and the experiences of people afflicted with Synaesthesia differ significantly.

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    Study link broken.
    – Christian
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 14:28

Many psychics claim to be able to see auras. Many healing methods like reiki are based on them.

I don't think Reiki is based on the concept of auras. As far as I know, orthodox Reiki doesn't use the term "aura". I searched a few Reiki ebooks I found online and they don't include the term. Reiki is a framework created by a Japanese Buddhist named Mikao Usui in 1922. Japanese takes aura as a loan word with indicates that Japanese does not have a native equivalent.

Psychics claim that if you look at someone with soft eyes, you can see a hazy field around them, white at first, which with practice becomes colourful and more detailed. They claim this is the aura.

I would judge that claim as true. In principle, you can get people in a state where they see strange things. Drugs like LSD help, but you can access states where people are suggestible for visual hallucinations also without drugs. One of the most detailed well-documented descriptions of hallucinations I have come across are tulpas where people with mental training see people who are just as detailed as real people.

If we move back to the soft eye thing, that normally gets you a counter color. If you look at a red circle, that circle will have a green glow around it. Purkinjes Vision - The Dawning of Neuroscience describes a bunch of related effected in the chapter about halos and afterimages.

If I understand right, aura training begins by convincing the person that auras are real by showing them some of those well-documented Neuroscience halo effects. Together with a highly meditative state and social pressure that's enough to get a bunch of the people who try to hallucinate more complex images.

That leaves the question of how the colors of the people come about. During the time the people are in a suggestible state they are going to be told what colors they are supposed to see in what circumstances.

Different brains will draw on different information to process that information into an aura color that's consistent with suggestions.

An aura is claimed to be a physical field:

The strongest energy source of the human body is the human heart. You can measure it via EKG. Depending on the strength of your measurement equipment you can measure it from a bit of distance. I think it's unlikely that humans can directly perceive the EKG of another person they don't touch.

There are however indirect way to access that information such a slight pupil dilations.

At that point it's useful to remind of Ekman's micro expressions that can last on the order of 1/25 to 1/15 of a second. There are all sorts of information that we perceive on a visual level and that get processed by most people on a unconscious level.

Humans can't smell as well as dogs who can be trained to detect some cancers via smell but there a lot of information that's available through human senses that isn't organised in a form where it's useful and which potentially can be put in a form through training.

It could certainly by useful to pull that kind of information together into a color spectrum to interact with it better.

The memory championships get won by people who rearrange information through mnemonics in a way that helps them to achieve extraordinary results. As far as I understand current record holder usually use face memory of human faces and spatial memory to encode information about playing cards. Recombining human senses, can certainly achieve useful effects but you won't know what individual people who try it can do.

Humans also radiate heat waves via infrared. That effect could be strong enough to be perceived by other humans. Heat is interesting because outer body extremities with low blood flow are colder than those with high blood flow. It plausible that a part of the body that doesn't get enough blood flow is physically ill and therefore has a "weak aura".

Given that a lot of energy healers do work with relaxation and tensions can restrict blood flow, a bunch of what those people react to can very well be heat.

  • I'm not sure it is possible to rule out the Reiki-aura link quite so easily. Byosen-hō seems to involve scanning for an aura, and the definitions of ki and auras seem closely interwoven.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 0:34
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    This answer contains a lot of personal opinion ("I don't think"/"I judge"/"If I understand right"), speculation (hallucinations, afterimages, heat detection, mnemonics, blood flow, pupil dilations) and very few quality reference sources (microexpressions and tulpas aren't well-accepted science, and so referencing Reddit and Wikipedia isn't sufficient.) If answer is that auras can be explained by natural phenomena, I think it needs more empirical evidence.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 0:41
  • You both accuse me as being to vague and as being to precise. You can't really have both. The question uses the word "see" a lot and speaks about aura's as being perceived visually. Reiki is not based on developing any visual representation, besides the Reiki symbols. On topics like that I attempt to provide useful information. Binary yes/no classification isn't the goal. It can't really be given the vaguesness of the claim to begin with. Mental models aren't true or false but ways of organising existing information that can be useful or not.
    – Christian
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 14:25
  • For afterimages I linked to a neuroscience textbook by a British professor published by an academic publisher. I learned about the effect in neuroscience 101. If you want to call textbook neuroscience knowledge speculations, you won't get very far in thinking about an issue like this. I do make some speculation but everyone does speculations and mine are marked. If you raise the bar as high as not accepting neuroscience textbooks that's will removes the fun.
    – Christian
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 14:26
  • I agree that Reiki isn't based on visual auras. Perhaps your dismissal there should be limited to that? I don't think I accuse you of being vague nor too precise. I think the answer contains speculation. That retinal fatigue leads to afterimages in complementary colours seems pretty well established science. That the myth of auras is explained by them (and electric fields, infrared, microexpressions, pupil dilations, and something to do with smell and memory) needs references.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 23:44

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