Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Rhine Research Center
Here is the first of a series of posts about fairly recent articles about out-of-body experiences. I will be including articles from different perspectives, among them neurological, parapsychological, and psychological. This will include reviews, conceptual, and research papers.
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Alvarado, C.S. (2009). The spirit in out-of-body experiences: Historical and conceptual notes. In B. Batey (Ed.), Spirituality, Science and the Paranormal (pp. 3-19). Bloomfield, CT: Academy of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies.
This paper focuses on selected aspects of the history of out-of-body experiences (OBEs), namely case work and discussions published between 1860 and 1956 in which its authors defended concepts such as the spirit and subtle bodies capable of going out of the physical body. The discussion centers on the writings of Scottish social reformer Robert Dale Owen’s (1801-1877), English reverend and medium’s William Stainton Moses (1839-1892), English journalist William H. Harrison, English classical scholar and psychical researcher Frederic W.H. Myers (1843-1901), French engineer Gabriel Delanne (1857-1926), Italian psychical researcher Ernesto Bozzano (1862-1943), and American sociologist Hornell Hart (1888-1967). All the discussions included veridical phenomena such as obtaining information about events taking place at a distance from the physical body, and being seen as an apparition in the location where the OBErs felt they were visiting while having the OBE. Some of these writings are evidentially problematic and suffer from lack of precise definition of the nature of the principle believed to be behind the phenomena. But regardless of conceptual problems the above mentioned OBE-related phenomena need to be considered by those who adhere to purely hallucinatory explanations of the phenomenon.
Braithwaite, J.J., Broglia, E., Bagshaw, A.P. and Wilkins, A.J. (2012). Evidence for elevated cortical hyperexcitability and its association with out-of-body experiences in the non-clinical population: New findings from a pattern-glare task. Cortex, 30, 1-13.
Individuals with no history of neurological or psychiatric illness can report hallucinatory Out-of-Body Experiences (OBEs) and display elevated scores on measures of temporal-lobe dysfunction (Braithwaite et al., 2011). However, all previous investigations of such biases in non-clinical populations are based on indirect questionnaire measures. Here we present the first empirical investigation that a non-clinical OBE group is subject to pattern-glare, possibly as a result of cortical hyperexcitability (Wilkins et al., 1984). Fifty-nine students at the University of Birmingham viewed a series of square-wave gratings with spatial frequencies of approximately .7, 3 and 11 cycles-per-degree, both black/white and of contrasting colours. The illusions and discomfort reported when viewing gratings with mid-range spatial frequency have been hypothesized to reflect cortical hyperexcitability (Wilkins, 1995; Huang et al., 2003). Participants also completed the Cardiff Anomalous Perception Scale (CAPS: Bell et al., 2006) which included experiential measures of disruptions in ‘Temporal-lobe Experience’. Participants who reported OBEs also reported significantly more visual illusions/distortions and significantly greater discomfort as a result of viewing the mid-frequency gratings. There were no such differences with respect to gratings with relatively lower or higher spatial frequency. The OBE group also produced significantly elevated scores on the CAPS measures of Temporal-lobe Experience, relative to controls. Collectively, the results are consistent with there being a neural ‘vulnerability’ in the cortices of individuals pre-disposed to some hallucinations, even in the non-clinical population.
Cardeña, E. and Alvarado, C.S. (2014) Anomalous self and identity experiences. In Cardeña, E. Lynn, S.J. and & Krippner, S. (Eds.), Varieties of Anomalous Experiences (2nd ed., pp. 175-212. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
This review paper has a section about OBEs covering survey and experimental studies, as well as clinical and theoretical issues. Some parts of the paper are: Prevalence, psychophysiological correlates, individual differences, medical and neurological variables, psychopathology, and parapsychological research.
Cheyne, J.A., & Girard, T.A. (2009). The body unbound: Vestibular–motor hallucinations and out-of-body experiences. Cortex, 45, 201-215.
Among the varied hallucinations associated with sleep paralysis (SP), out-of-body experiences (OBEs) and vestibular-motor (V-M) sensations represent a distinct factor. Recent studies of direct stimulation of vestibular cortex report a virtually identical set of bodily-self hallucinations. Both programs of research agree on numerous details of OBEs and V-M experiences and suggest similar hypotheses concerning their association. In the present study, self-report data from two on-line surveys of SP-related experiences were employed to assess hypotheses concerning the causal structure of relations among V-M experiences and OBEs during SP episodes. The results complement neurophysiological evidence and are consistent with the hypothesis that OBEs represent a breakdown in the normal binding of bodily-self sensations and suggest that out-of-body feelings (OBFs) are consequences of anomalous V-M experiences and precursors to a particular form of autoscopic experience, out-of-body autoscopy (OBA). An additional finding was that vestibular and motor experiences make relatively independent contributions to OBE variance. Although OBEs are superficially consistent with universal dualistic and supernatural intuitions about the nature of the soul and its relation to the body, recent research increasingly offers plausible alternative naturalistic explanations of the relevant phenomenology.
Alterations of consciousness are critical factors in the diagnosis of epileptic seizures. With these alterations in consciousness, some persons report sensations of separating from the physical body, experiences that may in rare cases resemble spontaneous out-of-body experiences. This study was designed to identify and characterize these out-of-body-like subjective experiences associated with seizure activity. Fifty-five percent of the patients in this study recalled some subjective experience in association with their seizures. Among our sample of 100 patients, 7 reported out-of-body experiences associated with their seizures. We found no differentiating traits that were associated with patients’ reports of out-of-body experiences, in terms of either demographics; medical history, including age of onset and duration of seizure disorder, and seizure frequency; seizure characteristics, including localization, lateralization, etiology, and type of seizure, and epilepsy syndrome; or ability to recall any subjective experiences associated with their seizures. Reporting out-of-body experiences in association with seizures did not affect epilepsy-related quality of life. It should be noted that even in those patients who report out-of-body experiences, such sensations are extremely rare events that do not occur routinely with their seizures. Most patients who reported out-of-body experiences described one or two experiences that occurred an indeterminate number of years ago, which precludes the possibility of associating the experience with the particular characteristics of that one seizure or with medications taken or other conditions at the time.
Neppe, V. (2011). Models of the out-of-body experience: Etiological Phenomenological Approach. NeuroQuantology, 9, 72-83.
This paper compares several models of out‐of‐body experience (OBE) leading a new proposed multi‐etiological model. Broadly the unitary hypotheses propose several single broad causes and explanations, though each of these recognizes that any specific explanation may not be all encompassing. These are best divided into four groups: Psychological, Brain, Psychopathology, and Experiential. The psychological models of Blackmore (reality distortion), Palmer (body concept) and Irwin (absorption) are followed by the brain empirical descriptions of Penfield, Blanke, and the cerebral explanations of Persinger (vectorial hemsiphericity), Wettach (midbrain near‐death experiences), and Nelson (REM‐intrusion in near death experiences [NDEs]). Additionally, there is the psychopathological psychiatric perspective, plus the spontaneous and induced OBEs that occur in subjective paranormal experients, which appear phenomenologically quite different. OBE research has generally been based on single questions without detailed qualitative differentiation of the OBE. This creates the erroneous situation of potentially misinterpreting diverse experiences under a single etiological umbrella. Optimally, OBE evaluations require detailed screening for OBEs so that “like” is classified with “like” not “unlike.” The author motivates for a detailed phenomenological analysis model which could accommodate the multiplicity of causes and the different subpopulations. This shifts the model from the unitary etiological hypotheses to Neppe’s Multi‐etiological Phenomenological Approach. Detailed phenomenological analyses may demonstrate separate distinct kinds of out of‐body experience and therefore ensure that OBEs are appropriately phenomenologically classified in the context of the population samples being examined. This approach facilitates analyzing form, content, circumstance, and predisposed populations using a predominantly biopsychofamiliosociocultural approach and differentiating five possible legitimate hypothetical groups: 1. subjective paranormal experience (SPE) out‐of‐body experiences, 2. OBEs in SPE‐ non‐experients who may have psychological experiences, 3. seizure and brain linked OBEs, 4. psychopathology interpreted as OBEs, 5. the non‐OBE population.