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Leslie Handy: Alien Abduction


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Leslie Handy
Alien Abduction Experiences
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Leslie Handy: Alien Abduction

  1. 1. Alien Abduction and the Human Mind: The Psychology Behind AAEs Leslie Handy PSYC 493 C
  2. 2. AAEs (Alien Abduction Experiences): Important Questions <ul><li>Do “abductees” believe in the truth of their claims? </li></ul><ul><li>Is there evidence to support the abductees’ claims of actual AAEs? </li></ul><ul><li>What, if not real alien experiences, could explain sincere abductees’ AAEs? </li></ul>
  3. 3. Do “abductees” believe in the truth of their claims? <ul><li>Are they lying? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Some people may want money, fame, attention, etc. and try to attain it via UEP hoaxes </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Case of Stan Romanek </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Aliens, UFOs, and other UEP phenomena have saturated pop culture, making AAEs seem lucrative, interesting, and even “cool” </li></ul></ul>
  4. 4. Do “abductees” believe in the truth of their claims? <ul><li>Are they crazy? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Society often portrays abductees as “lunatics” who confuse reality with science fiction </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>People who have AAEs are often lumped in with others with serious mental disorders or psychoses, such as Schizophrenics </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Perhaps the outlandish way in which pop culture portrays aliens, UFOs, etc. leads us to immediately dismiss UEP claims </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Abductions are viewed as an “impossibility” limited to science fiction; abductees are written off and ignored </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. Do “abductees” believe in the truth of their claims? <ul><li>However… </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Most abductees appear to believe in the sincerity of their claims, and are convinced that they have had AAEs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>As many as 3 million Americans claim to have had UEPs (many similar) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Well-established psychologists have conducted studies whose findings suggest that many abductees honestly believe in their AAEs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Susan Clancy: “they [abductees] are definitely not crazy.” </li></ul></ul>John Mack, PhD Susan Clancy, PhD Richard McNally, PhD
  6. 6. Do “abductees” believe in the truth of their claims? <ul><li>For the most part, yes. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Many abductees appear to be sane, competent, and honest people </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Barney and Betty Hill claimed to have been abducted in 1961 while on their way home from a vacation. The couple were respected, upstanding members of their community with no history of psychosis or mental disorder </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Herbert Schirmer, a police officer, claimed to have been abducted while on-duty in Ashland, Nebraska. After running a battery of psychological and psychosocial assessments, the Condon Committee of Scientists concluded that Schirmer’s “UFO experience was physically real” </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Many abductees show symptoms of PTSD when reliving their experiences </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Clancy, McNally, et al (2004): studied the physiological responses of abductees vs. a control group when using script-driven imagery to re-experience UEPs. Relative to the control group, abductees showed greater reactivity (heart rate, skin conductance, and electromyographic responses) when shown abduction and negative scripts than when shown positive scripts </li></ul></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Is there evidence to support the abductees’ claims of actual AAEs? <ul><li>Evidence suggested to support claims of AAEs </li></ul><ul><ul><li>High levels of similarity between cases </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Physiological Reactions to experiences/discussions comparable to PTSD patients </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Use of hypnosis to retrieve “real” hidden and lost memories </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. Is there evidence to support the abductees’ claims of actual AAEs? <ul><li>High levels of similarity between cases </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Consistency of descriptions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Seeing a bright light in the sky which comes closer </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Short beings of gray or green color </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Large, orb like dark eyes in oval faces </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Taken into ships and given medical examinations </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Sexual encounters/egg harvesting </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Missing time and an inability to account for lost hours </li></ul></ul></ul>
  9. 9. Is there evidence to support the abductees’ claims of actual AAEs? <ul><li>High levels of dis similarity between cases </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Authors of abduction narratives (Fowler, Hopkins, Mack) etc. tend to make the abductees look as “normal” as possible, omitting and fine-tuning details which may portray the abductees as unreliable and abnormal or make the account more reliable and “precise” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The image of the alien evolved over time; early cases of UEPs were more varied: aliens were tall, short, scaly, smooth, brown, green, spoke English, or spoke in high pitched beeping, grunting, or via ESP </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The Villas-Boas case: five different well-known UFO researchers gave conflicting accounts of what occurred, despite having the same source </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Some sources mentioned a sexual encounter with a female alien, while others omit it entirely </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Growling or barking of alien speech omitted in some accounts, claimed to have merely been “grunting” in others </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Human vs. humanoid and helmeted descriptions </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Consistency “Lost in translation” despite all having the same source; information evolved and distorted over time </li></ul></ul></ul>
  10. 10. Is there evidence to support the abductees’ claims of actual AAEs? <ul><li>Physiological Reactions to experiences/discussions comparable to PTSD patients </li></ul><ul><ul><li>In the aforementioned study, McNally & Clancy found that abductees reacted more than control groups to script-driven imagery of negative and abduction events </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>HOWEVER the study also found that the abductees rated higher than the control group on ratings of </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Dissociation (detaching the mind from the body; seeing the world in a dream like state) </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Absorption (imaginative capability and fantasy proneness) </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Magical Ideation (belief that events which cannot be causally related are in fact related nevertheless) </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“ The script-driven imagery protocol reflects the emotional significance of a memory, not necessarily its veracity” </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Clancy, McNally, et. al </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  11. 11. Is there evidence to support the abductees’ claims of actual AAEs? <ul><li>Use of hypnosis to retrieve “real” hidden and lost memories </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Advocates of “real” UEPs, from Mack to Hopkins to Fowler, all used hypnosis to retrieve memories of abductions from the abductees </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Problem : hypnosis can be highly unreliable </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Freud himself abandoned hypnosis </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>The psychologist may inadvertently “guide” the thoughts and memories of the patient </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Can lead to the creation of false memories </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Each session gives the patient more information that can then be integrated into memory, regardless of its origins </li></ul></ul></ul>These issues, especially those related to memory, lead us into our next topic…
  12. 12. What, if not real alien experiences, could explain sincere abductees’ AAEs? <ul><li>If abductees aren’t lying, aren’t crazy, and aren’t really being abducted, what is happening? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>This question is often overlooked, and the research on AAEs is limited </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The DSM-IV-TR lists many undefined, unrelated, or wholly uninvestigated possibilities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Factitious Disorder </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Malingering </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Dissociative reactions </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Conversion Disorder </li></ul></ul></ul>
  13. 13. What, if not real alien experiences, could explain sincere abductees’ AAEs? <ul><li>In addition to the DSM explanations, others have suggested hysteria, sleep paralysis, fantasy prone personalities, and a host of other equally unproven theories </li></ul><ul><li>The focus of this presentation is on an interplay of psychological and social possibilities, based on research by several psychologists. These include </li></ul><ul><ul><li>False Memory Syndrome (FMS) and memory distortion </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sleep-paralysis paired with hypnopompic hallucinations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The unreliability of hypnosis, societal references, and the subsequent creation and maintenance of false memories </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>NOTE: these explanations represent only what I have found to be most empirically promising through my research, and do not necessarily suggest one syndrome or disorder as yet undefined; more research is needed on larger scales to discover a cohesive and comprehensive explanation for AAEs . </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. What, if not real alien experiences, could explain sincere abductees’ AAEs? <ul><li>False Memory Syndrome </li></ul><ul><ul><li>FMS, while not in the DSM, has gained increasing attention in recent years. FMS is a collection of symptoms involving the creation and maintenance of memories of events which, in reality, did not take place </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>While McNally and Clancy have done much of the research specifically involving FMS and related symptoms with alien abductees, other psychologists have done extensive research which can be a testament to the malleability of memory </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. What, if not real alien experiences, could explain sincere abductees’ AAEs? <ul><li>Studies related to FMS and memory distortion </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Clancy, McNally, et. al (2002): found that people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens (stated by the authors as a “highly unlikely event”): </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Did not show signs of psychosis </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Were more likely to exhibit false recall </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Were more likely to exhibit false recognition </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Were more prone to memory distortion </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Scored higher on measures of hypnotic suggestibility </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Scored higher on measures of magical ideation </li></ul></ul></ul>These results suggests that abductees are more likely than controls to recall and recognize information that they did not see or experience as real, distorting their memories and suggesting FMS. This proclivity to distort memories may be related to their higher levels of magical ideation, i.e. fantasy life and unrealistic belief patterns
  16. 16. What, if not real alien experiences, could explain sincere abductees’ AAEs? <ul><li>Studies related to FMS and memory distortion </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Dr. Elizabeth Loftus (1997) reviewed several studies conducted by herself and her colleagues related to the creation of false memories </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Patient believed to have been repeatedly raped, impregnated, and forced to get an abortion as a child/teen by her father; a medical exam at age 22 indicated that she was still a virgin and had never been pregnant </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Participants in a study viewed a video of a car accident at an intersection with a stop sign; suggestions by experimenters that the sign had actually said Yield led to a tendency for participants to claim the sign had in fact been a Yield sign </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Conducted a study in which the experimenter implanted a memory of being lost in a shopping mall; 29% of participants who had never had the experience claimed, after reading a booklet about their life events, to have had this experience </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Recalled a study by Hyman in which the experimenters suggested memories of spilling punch at a wedding; upon a second interview 18% of participants remembered this fictitious event, and the number increased to 25% upon a third interview. One participant initially said she had no memory of the event, but upon the second interview recalled having been at the wedding, spilling the punch, and even getting yelled at for doing so </li></ul></ul></ul>Remember: high false recall and recognition rates in abductees
  17. 17. What, if not real alien experiences, could explain sincere abductees’ AAEs? <ul><li>Sleep paralysis </li></ul><ul><ul><li>During regular REM cycles, the body paralyzes itself; when the REM cycles become desynchronized, a person can awaken while still remaining paralyzed for seconds or even minutes, causing feelings of being restrained and under pressure </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Hypnopompic Hallucinations </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Upon waking, some people experience hallucinations, which can involve electrical and tingling sensations, the feeling of levitations, hearing loud buzzing sounds, flashing lights, the sensation of a presence, and hovering figures nearby </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. What, if not real alien experiences, could explain sincere abductees’ AAEs? <ul><li>Sleep Paralysis & Hypnopompic Hallucinations </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Clancy, McNally, et. Al (2002): abductees in the experiment, when interviewed, described their AAEs, the components of which were extremely similar to sleep paralysis and hypnopompic hallucinations. They involved: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Many of the abductees claimed to have been abducted after the onset of sleep and remember only being aware of the few uncomfortable moments of “abduction” after awakening </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Abductees believed themselves to have had an AAE after waking up and feeling afraid, paralyzed, and “not alone”, as if there were a presence in their bedroom </li></ul></ul></ul>
  19. 19. What, if not real alien experiences, could explain sincere abductees’ AAEs? <ul><li>Hypnosis, Society, and False Memories </li></ul><ul><ul><li>John Mack, PhD, one of the major supporters of physical AAEs, depends on hypnosis to discover the “truth” about his patients’ experiences </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>All his “experiencers” are his own case studies </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Mack is merely making observations, not empirically experimenting </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Many of his experiencers go through several hypnotic sessions before “revealing” what really happened to them; some don’t even “remember” until reminded by a relevant TV show, movie, or reading (spontaneous) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Often uses holotropic breathework on the experiencers (involves deep breathing exercises and evocative music) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Hypnosis, Society, and False Memories </li></ul><ul><ul><li>In the study mentioned by Loftus, several subjects came to believe the traumatic events had occurred via suggestions, guidance, and hypnosis of and by a psychiatrist </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The patient may be looking for an answer to a mysterious sensations, emotions, or experiences and the expectations of the clinician may lead them to develop these false memories </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Many of the clinicians who implanted these false memories were later sued </li></ul></ul>Takeaway message: case studies and hypnosis are subjective measures with generally low reliability and validity
  20. 20. What, if not real alien experiences, could explain sincere abductees’ AAEs? <ul><li>Hypnosis, Society, and False Memories </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Some (like Mack) believe that hypnosis is crucial in discovering repressed traumatic events, i.e. alien abductions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>HOWEVER, McNally suggests that traumatic events generally are not repressed (in the case of not only abductees but people who were sexually abused) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>When we recall a memory, it is not a videotape: its elements are distributed throughout the brain (incomplete encoding) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Traumatic events, like rapes, are not repressed, are actually ever present in the mind, but kept quiet because it is a “terrible secret” </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Memories before age five are not traumatic amnesia; the hippocampus is not yet fully developed in early childhood </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Hypnosis, therefore, does not aid in memory recovery, but takes a vague idea of an event and, through a clinician’s guidance, forms an alternate explanation (i.e. abduction) for a previously unexplainable experience. This “memory” is then strengthened through repeated hypnotic regressions, cultural references to UFOs, memory distortion, etc. </li></ul></ul></ul>
  21. 21. Summary <ul><li>Several studies by established psychologists suggest that abductees do not suffer from psychoses and are relatively normal, sincere people who believe in the veracity of their experiences and display the subsequent distress (PTSD symptoms) </li></ul><ul><li>For much of the evidence supporting the truth behind physical alien abductions, (most of which comes from individual, unsubstantiated accounts, case studies, hypnosis, etc. and is defined by the times and pop culture) there is empirical evidence to suggest the arguably more likely presence of a psychological/psychiatric influence </li></ul><ul><li>Many, though not all, abductees describe their abductions in terms that are almost identical to the symptoms of sleep paralysis and hypnopompic hallucinations </li></ul><ul><li>Studies have found that abductees are more likely than most people to recall, recognize, and create false memories </li></ul><ul><li>Many abductees and experiencers do not initially remember their experiences, but “retrieve” them via hypnosis or spontaneous recovery, a process which McNally and colleagues believe is not necessary for the awareness of traumatic memories </li></ul><ul><li>AAEs are too often written off as hoaxes, psychosis, or a pop culture fad. The research on this subject is too little and too scattered to offer a cohesive theory on what these “abductees” are experiencing. Discussed here are possibilities and arguments backed by empirical evidence and studies which, nevertheless, must be repeated and expanded to shed more light on the phenomenon of the alien abduction experience </li></ul>
  22. 22. Works Cited <ul><li>Cone, W.P., Ester, R., & Randle, K.D. (1999). The Abduction Enigma: The Truth Behind the Mass Alien Abductions of the Late Twentieth Century . New York: Forge Publications. </li></ul><ul><li>Clancy, S.A., Lezenweger, M.F., McNally, J.R., Pitman, R.K., & Schacter, D.L. Memory Distortion in People Reporting Abduction by Aliens. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111 (3), 455-461. </li></ul><ul><li>Clancy, S.A., Lasko, N.B., Macklin, M.L., McNally, J.R., Orr, P.S., & Pitman, R.K. Psychophysiological Responding During Script-Driven Imagery in People Reporting Abduction by Space Aliens. Psychological Science, 15 (7), 493-497. </li></ul><ul><li>Greene, B., Nevid, J.S., & Rathus, S.A (1995). Abnormal Psychology in a Changing World. Pearson Education. </li></ul><ul><li>Loftus, E. (1997). Creating False Memories. Scientific American , 277, 70-75. </li></ul><ul><li>Matheson, T. (1998). Alien Abductions: Creating a Modern Phenomenon . New York: Prometheus Books. </li></ul><ul><li>McNally, R. J. (2005). Debunking Myths About Trauma and Memory. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 50 (13), 817-822. </li></ul><ul><li>Perina, K. (2003). Cracking the Harvard X-Files. Psychology Today , 36 (2), 66. </li></ul><ul><li>Shermer, M. (2005). Abducted! Scientific American , 292 (2), 34. </li></ul>