Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

Easton, S., Blanke, O., & Mohr, C. (2009). A putative implication for fronto-parietal connectivity in out-of-body experiences. Cortex, 45, 216-227.

Self-processing has been related to the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) as well as to their connectivity. So far, out-of-body experiences (OBEs), impressive transient deviations of intact bodily self-integration, could be associated with the TPJ, but the mediation by the frontal lobe, and thus fronto-parietal connectivity, is yet unknown. Thus, we assessed switching performance to assess fronto-parietal connectivity when healthy participants [11 reported previous OBEs (OBE-individuals); 36 reported no previous OBEs (nOBE-individuals)] performed two different mental own body imagery tasks. By using the same stimuli of a front-facing and back-facing human figure, a cue simultaneously presented with the target indicated to participants whether they had to take the position of the depicted human figure (disembodied self-location mimicking an OBE) or had to imagine that the figure was their own reflection in a mirror (embodied Self location). By repeating trials of the same task instruction for a differing number of trials (2–6 trials), we could assess switch costs when alternating between these two task instructions with switch costs being considered to be a behavioural indicator of frontoparietal connectivity. Results showed that OBE-individuals performed worse than non OBE individuals in switch trials, but not in trials in which the same task instruction was repeated. Moreover, this reduced performance was specific to body positions that are normally considered easier (front-facing in the mirror condition; back-facing in the OBE mimicking condition). These findings suggest that a fronto-parietal network might be implicated in OBEs, and that the flexible and spontaneous egocentric perspective taking of self-congruent body representations is hampered in individuals with previous OBEs.

Carruthers, G. (2013) Who am I in out of body experiences? Implications from OBEs for the explanandum of a theory of self-consciousness. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, DOI 10.1007/s11097-013-9332-0

Contemporary theories of self-consciousness typically begin by dividing experiences of the self into types, each requiring separate explanation. The stereotypical case of an out of body experience (OBE) may be seen to suggest a distinction between the sense of oneself as an experiencing subject, a mental entity, and a sense of oneself as an embodied person, a bodily entity. Point of view, in the sense of the place from which the subject seems to experience the world, in this case is tied to the sense of oneself as a mental entity and seems to be the ‘real’ self. Closer reading of reports, however, suggests a substantially more complicated picture. For example, the ‘real’ self that is experienced as separate from the body in an OBE is not necessarily experienced as disembodied. Subjects may experience themselves as having two bodies. In cases classed as heautoscopy there is considerable confusion regarding the apparent location of the experiencing subject; is it the ‘real mind’ in the body I seem to be looking out from, or is it in the body that I see? This suggests that visual point of view can dissociate from the experience of one’s own “real mind” or experience of self-identification. I provide a tripartite distinction between the sense of ownership, the sense of embodiment and the sense of subjectivity to better describe these experiences. The phenomenology of OBEs suggests that there are three distinct forms of self-consciousness which need to be explained.

De Foe, A., van Doorn, G., & Symmons, M. (2012). Auditory hallucinations predict likelihood of out-of- body experience. Australian Journal of Parapsychology, 12, 59-68.

An out of body experience (OBE) occurs when the centre of a person’s awareness appears to temporarily occupy a position which is spatially remote from their body. Prior research suggests that fantasy proneness factors are predictors of OBE likelihood, specifically prior auditory, visual, and kinaesthetic hallucinations. Three hundred and seventy participants completed an online questionnaire investigating variables that, potentially, contributed to their OBEs. Binary Logistic Regression identified one item that predicted whether or not a person had experienced an OBE: whether a participant had, or had not, previously experienced an auditory hallucination.

De Foe, A., van Doorn, G. and Symmons, M. (2012). Research note: Induced out-of-body experiences are associated with a sensation of leaving the body. Australian Journal of Parapsychology 12, 177-185.

Individuals who have had an out-of-body experience (OBE) report that the centre of their awareness appears to, temporarily, shift to a location that is spatially distinct from the location of their physical body. Research suggests that some OBErs report a sensation of leaving their physical body prior to their OBEs, while others instead report spontaneously finding themselves outside of their body. The present study evaluated data collected from 194 participants who claimed to have had an OBE. Instances of spontaneous and autonomously induced OBEs were considered. Binary Logistic Regression identified one item that predicted whether a participant was more likely to have had an induced, rather than a spontaneous, OBE: whether a participant had experienced a sensation of leaving their physical body prior to the OBE.

Gow, K., Lang, T., & Chant, D. (2004). Fantasy proneness, paranormal beliefs and personality features in out-of-body experiences. Contemporary Hypnosis, 21, 107-125.

This study investigated the relationship between reported out-of-body experiences, certain psychological variables and personality characteristics. One hundred and sixty-seven participants completed a series of questionnaires to investigate differences amongst those participants reporting out-of-body experiences and those who were classified as believers or non-believers on: fantasy proneness, paranormal beliefs, psychological absorption, psychological association, somatoform dissociation, certain personality characteristics and OBE experience sensations. The findings revealed that experients were more fantasy prone, higher in their belief in the paranormal and displayed greater somatoform dissociation. Psychological absorption and dissociation were higher for believers than for either experients or non-believers and in relation to experients, fantasy proneness, paranormal beliefs and the personality dimensions of institution and feeling were significantly related, as were psychological absorption, psychological dissociation and somatoform dissociation.