PsychExchange.co.uk Shared Resource

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PsychExchange.co.uk Shared Resource

  1. 1. Near Death ExperienceNear-death experiences (NDEs) occur when a person is close to death and also after faintingor simply in stressful or threatening situation.ExplanationsPsychological explanation – Some people hold paranormal beliefs and this leads them tointerpret events in terms of paranormal explanations, for example viewing NDEs as spiritualexperiences.Biological explanation – One suggestion is that endorphins are released at times of painand stress and these lead to feelings of euphoria and detachment (Carr 1982). More recentexplanations suggest that NDEs are related to hypoxia (lack of oxygen) which may occur, forexample during cardiac arrest or fainting. This hypoxia might cause REM intrusions whichcreate a mixed sleep/awake state that could, like OOBEs, disrupt the integration of sensoryinformation. Alternatively hypoxia created a flood of the neurotransmitter glutamate whichcauses neuronal death. As a defence, the brain creates a protective blockade to preventneuronal death and this blockade is the source of an NDE. Near Death ExperienceResearch StudiesNaturally occurring NDEs – Ring (1980) interviewed 100 people who had NDEs, finding thatabout 60% of survivors reported a sense of peace, 33% reported OOBEs, 25% said theyentered a tunnel and a few had experienced a kind of ‘life review’. Nelson et al. (2006)studied 55 people with NDEs and 55 controls. He found that the NDE group were more likelyto also experience ‘REM intrusions’.Artificially induced NDEs – Jansen (1993) has experimented with the drug ketamine, givingit to patients to observe the effects. He found that it can produce the classic symptoms ofNDEs. In addition, ketamine has been found to trigger the same blockade as glutamate(Jansen, 2009).
  2. 2. Near Death ExperienceEvaluationExplanationsPsychological explanation – The fact that NDEs are not experienced by all near-deathpatients means that there is likely to be a psychological component to the experience. Forexample, some people may expect to have such experiences and then, if they experiencecertain physiological changes, they label these as a spiritual event.Spiritual explanation – Van Lommel et al (2001) followed 344 cardiac survivors over 8 yearsand found those who had experienced an NDE subsequently regarded it as a life-changing,spiritual experience. Those who didn’t have an NDE continued to fear death. This suggeststhat is a spiritual experience but that doesn’t mean that it is caused by spiritual factors.Cultural differences – Augustine (2008) presented a comprehensive review of NDEs indifferent cultures and provided examples, such as in India NDEs involve encounters withHindu figures and in Japan there were no instances of any light appearing. There were alsoconsistent features, such as going through a tunnel, feelings of peace, OOBEs and meeting abarrier between life and death. Such differences and similarities suggest that bothpsychological and physiological factors are involved.Research studiesEarly studies may have lacked appropriate controls. Interviewer bias may have affected thedata collected as Moody (1975) reported NDEs as wonderful experiences, whereas morerecent research has found that for many people they are frightening.Reductionism – Parnia suggests that, if it can be shown that mental experiences occur whenthe brain is inactive in an NDE, then this might count as a demonstration of the soul – themind separate from the physical body. By contrast Jansen (1993) says the real reductionismcome from those who attempt to ‘draw a mystical cover over the NDE, belittling thesubstantial evidence in favour of a scientific explanation’.

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