PsychExchange.co.uk Shared Resource

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PsychExchange.co.uk Shared Resource

  1. 1. Out of Body Experiences (OOBE)Out-of-body experience refers to the sensation of being awake and seeing your own bodyfrom a location outside your physical body. About 15-20% of people claim to haveexperienced an OOBE (Blackmore, 1982).ExplanationsParanormal explanation: This suggests that something beyond our current understanding ishappening. The only possible way to explain how you can physically leave your body is byseparating mind and body.Biological explanation: This suggests that OOBEs are related to sensory disturbance (whenall stimulation is cut off from the sensory receptors). For example, Blackmore (1982)suggests that normally we view the world as if we were behind our eyes. In situations wheresensory input breaks down, the brain attempts to reconstruct what we are seeing usingmemory and imagination. Memory images are often bird’s-eye views so the constructedimage usually appears be to viewing oneself from above.
  2. 2. Out of Body Experiences (OOBE)Research StudiesNaturally- occurring OOBEs – Green (1968) studied 400 personal accounts of OOBEs andclassified them as parasomatic (about 20% of the accounts) or sometimes asomatic (nosense of another body). She also found that 25% of the cases were associated with somekind of psychological stress and 12% occurred during sleep.Artificially induced OOBEs – Alvarado (1982) reviewed a range of lab studies where OOBEswere induced by various means (e.g. relaxation, hypnosis, audio – visual stimulation). Theparticipants were then asked to identify target objects out of sight of their physical body. Inone experiment a Miss Z was able to read out a randomly selected five – digit numberplaced in another room (Tart, 1968). Overall Alvarado considered that the evidence wasweak although there were some striking results.Biological Studies – Blanke et al. (2002) induced OOBEs accidentally by electricallystimulating the temporal-parietal junction (TPJ) in a woman who suffered from epilepsy inthat region. This led them to study neurologically normal subjects as well (Blanke et al.2005). Stimulation of the TPJ using transcranial magnetic stimulation resulted in OOBEswhereas stimulation of other areas did not.
  3. 3. Out of Body Experiences (OOBE)EvaluationExplanationsParanormal explanation – The evidence does not support such explanations. For example,Alvarado’s review did not find evidence that the parasomatic body had physically moved outof the physical body. He did acknowledge some exceptional cases but perhaps these can beexplained in terms of suspect methodology, for example the participant might have had theopportunity to see the target object prior to the test.Biological explanation - This suggests the OOBEs are related to sensory disturbance. Thereis support for this from Blanke that involved activation of the TPJ. Other research shows thatthis area of the brain is involved in the construction of the sense of body in space (Persinger,2001). Ehrsson’s research also provided support for the link between sensory disturbanceand OOBEs.Research StudiesArtificial vs natural OOBEs – One of the problems with any research is that it is difficult tostudy natural OOBEs because they occur without predictability and, even if a researcher waspresent, the OOBE would cease as soon as the participant reported it. Therefore, mostresearch is conducted on artificially-induced OOBEs in lab settings. Some researchers do notregard these as equivalent to naturally-occurring OOBEs.Individual differencesOOBEs are reported more often by individuals who are paranormal believers (Irwin, 1985).People who have OOBEs are also more fantasy prone, score higher on hypnotisability and ondissociation (ability to separate different aspects of conscious activity). Such characteristicsgo some way to explaining why such individuals have OOBEs. However, there is no evidenceto suggest people with OOBEs are mentally ill, although the experience may make peoplefeel they are losing their mind.

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