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Religious, spiritual, and mystical experiences (RSMEs) are often described as having a noetic quality, or the compelling sense that the experience feels “real.” In this exploratory, multimethod study, 701 participants completed questions about the subjective qualities of their RMSEs, reported the impact of their RSMEs on various life domains, and provided written descriptions of their experiences for quantitative linguistic analysis. The majority of participants (69%) reported that their RSMEs felt “more real than their usual sense of reality.” This quality of realness was associated with positive self-reported impacts on family life (r = .16), health (r = .22), sense of purpose (r = .29), spirituality (r = .30), and reduced fear of death (r = .24). Participants who reported experiences as feeling more real used more language referring to connection, a greater whole, and certainty (“love,” “all,” “and,” “everything”) and fewer first-person pronouns, cognitive processes, and tentativeness (“I,” “me,” “think,” “probably”). These findings provide insight into the noetic quality, as well as the psychological characteristics that may underlie the noetic quality of RSMEs.
The Noetic Quality: A Multimethod Exploratory Study
David B. Yaden
University of Pennsylvania
Khoa D. Le Nguyen
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Margaret L. Kern
University of Melbourne
Nancy A. Wintering
Thomas Jefferson University
Johannes C. Eichstaedt
University of Pennsylvania
H. Andrew Schwartz
Stony Brook University
Anneke E. K. Buffone and Laura K. Smith
University of Pennsylvania
Mark R. Waldman
Loyola Marymount University
Ralph W. Hood Jr.
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Andrew B. Newberg
Thomas Jefferson University
Religious, spiritual, and mystical experiences (RSMEs) are often described as having a
noetic quality, or the compelling sense that the experience feels “real.” In this exploratory,
multimethod study, 701 participants completed questions about the subjective qualities of
their RMSEs, reported the impact of their RSMEs on various life domains, and provided
written descriptions of their experiences for quantitative linguistic analysis. The majority of
participants (69%) reported that their RSMEs felt “more real than their usual sense of
reality.” This quality of realness was associated with positive self-reported impacts on
family life (r.16), health (r.22), sense of purpose (r.29), spirituality (r.30), and
reduced fear of death (r.24). Participants who reported experiences as feeling more real
used more language referring to connection, a greater whole, and certainty (“love,” “all,”
“and,” “everything”) and fewer first-person pronouns, cognitive processes, and tentative-
ness (“I,” “me,” “think,” “probably”). These findings provide insight into the noetic quality,
as well as the psychological characteristics that may underlie the noetic quality of RSMEs.
Everything else might be a dream, but not that
William James, (1902/1985),
The Varieties of Religious Experience.
A general analysis of descriptions of reli-
gious, spiritual, and mystical experiences
(RSMEs; Beauregard, 2011) suggests that
among many factors that characterize such ex-
periences- such as perceptions of unity, ineffa-
bility, positive emotions, and sacredness- one
important element is the noetic quality, or the
David B. Yaden, Department of Psychology, Univer-
sity of Pennsylvania; Khoa D. Le Nguyen, Department
of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill; Margaret L. Kern, Melbourne
Graduate School of Education, University of Mel-
bourne; Nancy A. Wintering, Myrna Brind Center of
Integrative Medicine, Thomas Jefferson University; Jo-
hannes C. Eichstaedt, Department of Psychology, Uni-
versity of Pennsylvania; H. Andrew Schwartz, Com-
puter Science Department, Stony Brook University;
Anneke E. K. Buffone, Department of Psychology, Uni-
versity of Pennsylvania; Laura K. Smith, Department of
Psychology, University of Pennsylvania; Mark R. Wald-
man, Department of Business, Loyola Marymount Uni-
versity; Ralph W. Hood, Jr., Department of Psychology,
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; Andrew B.
Newberg, Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine,
Thomas Jefferson University.
This publication was made possible through the support
of grant 0048 from the Templeton Religion Trust.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the
authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the
Templeton Religion Trust.
Correspondence concerning this article should be ad-
dressed to David B. Yaden, Department of Psychology,
University of Pennsylvania, 3701 Market Street, Suite
200 Philadelphia, PA 19104. E-mail: dyaden@sas
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Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice © 2017 American Psychological Association
2017, Vol. 4, No. 1, 54– 62 2326-5523/17/$12.00
compelling sense that the experience feels
“real” (Griffiths et al., 2008;Griffiths, Richards,
McCann, & Jesse, 2006;Hood, 1975;James,
1902/1985;Stace, 1960;Yaden et al., 2015;
Yaden, Iwry, Slacl, et al., 2016;Yaden, Le
Nguyen, Kern, et al., 2016). To illustrate, the
quote that begins this article comes from an
individual insisting on the sense of realness— or
noetic quality—associated with his RSME in
James’s (1902/1985) classic study of the topic,
The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study
in Human Nature.
People can typically distinguish “real” expe-
riences from those experienced in dreams or
hallucinations. Although on their face, RSMEs
may seem closer to such hallucinatory or
dream-like states, these experiences are often
anecdotally described as feeling somehow more
real than other quotidian “real-life” experiences.
RSMEs and other mental states associated with
perceived changes in realness have been
grouped under the broader category of epistemic
states (d’Aquili & Newberg, 1993,2000), or
mental states associated with altered intuitions
about reality. Even though this feeling of real-
ness constitutes an important aspect of RSMEs
and other epistemic states (such as derealization
disorder; see Simeon & Abugel, 2006), few
empirical studies have sought to further under-
stand this noetic quality.
Historically, feelings of realness reported
during RSMEs have often been treated as
knowledge claims, or attempts to report them as
facts about the world (Russell, 1917). For ex-
ample, people often make statements following
their RSMEs such as, “all is one,” or about the
“inherent goodness” of the world. Scholars have
debated whether sensory information from
RSMEs is similar in kind to ordinary sensory
information, and thus a potentially valid source
of “true beliefs” about the world (e.g., Alston,
1991). But the unfalsifiable nature of many
statements that follow RSMEs has made the
claims of realness associated with these experi-
ences difficult to study. Regardless of whether
the content of mystical experiences can be ob-
jectively evaluated, the subjective feeling of
realness can be empirically studied and is the
topic of the present study.
William James (1902/1985) made a similar
distinction between subjective feelings of real-
ness and knowledge claims, writing “the feeling
of reality may be something more like a sensa-
tion than an intellectual operation properly so-
called” (p. 58). To operationalize this feeling of
reality, James suggested that a key criterion for
mystical experiences is that they have a noetic
quality, the sense that objectively true aspects of
reality have been revealed. But it is the feeling
quality of the experience that we are concerned
with, rather than the content or veracity of be-
liefs that may derive from RSMEs.
Feelings of realness are subject to change
during a number of different mental states, each
of which could therefore be considered an epis-
temic state (d’Aquili & Newberg, 1993,2000).
For example, alterations in realness occur in
clinical disorders such as derealization disorder,
in which existence can feel very unreal (Simeon
et al., 2000). Individuals with this disorder
might say things like “everything feels unreal to
me, like a dream” (Simeon & Abugel, 2006).
This dreamlike sense of unreality can be differ-
entiated; a factor analysis of derealization
symptom clusters included factors such as “un-
reality of self” or “unreality of surroundings”
(Simeon et al., 2008). More generally, most
altered states seem less real. For example, for
most people, dreams usually feel real only dur-
ing sleep, hallucinations from fever fade with a
return to health, and paranoid delusions disap-
pear with treatment. Most altered states of con-
sciousness—though seemingly real while they
occur—are described as less real in hindsight.
RSMEs appear to be an exception.
A recent resurgence of interest in using
RSMEs in interventions (e.g., meditation, re-
treats, psychedelic substances) underscores the
urgency of better understanding the qualities of
these states, including their sense of realness
(e.g., Griffiths et al., 2006;Yaden, Le Nguyen,
Kern, et al., 2016;Yaden, McCall, & Ellens,
2015). RSMEs can be elicited in retreat settings
(Hood, 1977), through meditation (Newberg et
al., 2001), under conditions of sensory isolation
(Hood, Morris, & Watson, 1990), with psyche-
delic drugs (Griffiths et al., 2006,2008;Hood,
2014), and perhaps in the near future, with
noninvasive brain stimulation (Yaden, Ander-
son, Mattar, & Newberg, 2015;Yaden, Iwry, &
Newberg, 2016;Yaden & Newberg, 2014). Be-
yond intentional interventions, RSMEs also oc-
cur spontaneously. Taking intentional and spon-
taneous experiences into account, reviews of
survey research report that about 33% of Amer-
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icans have had intense spiritual experiences
(Hood, Hill, & Spilka, 2009).
Noetic quality has been measured with scales
such as the Mysticism Scale (M-Scale; Chen,
Yang, Hood, & Watson, 2011;Hood, 1975;
Hood & Williamson, 2000) and the Mystical
Experience Questionnaire (MEQ; MacLean,
Leoutsakos, Johnson, & Griffiths, 2012). How-
ever, these scales do not measure the full range
of feelings of realness associated with the noetic
spectrum, spanning from unreal (which might
capture instances of derealization), to an ordi-
nary sense of realness, to realer than real. Fur-
ther understanding of the factors that influence
the feeling of realness could provide informa-
tion regarding the nature of RSMEs, as well as
more basic aspects of the human perception and
evaluation of reality.
Beyond these questionnaire measures, writ-
ten descriptions may capture more information
regarding noetic qualities and psychological
processes underlying the special sense of real-
ness associated with RSMEs. In the current
study, we first analyzed psychometric responses
about RSMEs to determine how real partici-
pants’ RSMEs felt compared with normal real-
ity and how this feeling subsequently affected
various life domains. We then explored linguis-
tic features associated with ratings of realness
using computational linguistic analysis. In line
with the existing literature, we expected that
RSMEs would be reported as feeling more real
than usual reality and would have a positive
impact on various life domains. Although we
did not have specific predictions about what
linguistic features would be associated with the
feeling of realness, we performed linguistic
analysis to elucidate factors that characterize
real-feeling RSMEs.
A website hosted by the University of Penn-
sylvania was used to explicitly survey spiritual
experiences. Of 2,718 respondents who began
the online survey, 701 participants (25.8%)
completed both the relevant survey items and
wrote at least 25 words about their RSMEs.
This drop-off of responses is consistent with
other online surveys requiring multiple choice
and written responses.
The included sample was generally middle so-
cioeconomic status (SES) and White (Lower
SES 12.98%, middle 75.32%, upper
9.12%; White 82.74%, Black 2.57%,
Asian 2.14%, Hispanic 3.71%, other
7.14%). There were slightly more men (52.78%)
than women (43.94%), and a large number of
participants indicated their religious affiliation as
other (32.38%) or atheist (26.39%). Other reli-
gious affiliations included Christian (18.40%),
Jewish (2.00%), Islamic (0.29%), Hindu or Bud-
dhist (7.56%), Pagan (3.00%), and Unitarian Uni-
versalist (2.43%).
Compared with those who were excluded due
to their insufficient responses, the included sam-
ple scored higher on mysticism (3.28 vs. 3.02
out of 4), t(1093) 4.99, p.001, d.29, but
did not significantly differ from the excluded
sample in how real they felt their RSMEs were
at the time, t(480) 1.92, p.055 or in
hindsight, t(423) .59, p.56, or in terms of
(2) 4.80, p.09, gender,
.19, p.66, or ethnicity,
(7) 8.71, p.27.
Participants completed various scales
through an online survey, a subset of which is
included in the current study.
The University
of Pennsylvania’s Institutional Review Board
approved all procedures.
Epistemic State. Participants answered
two items about the realness of their RSME on
a 5-point scale (1 much less real,5much
more real): “When you had the experience how
did it compare to your usual reality?” (measur-
ing perceived realness during the experience)
and “Looking back at your experience— how
real do you consider it now?” (measuring per-
ceived realness in hindsight).
Death Transcendence Scale: Mysticism
subsection. The Mysticism subsection of the
Death Transcendence Scale (Hood & Morris,
1983) is based on Hood’s (1975) Mysticism
Scale (M-Scale), a well-established measure of
mystical experiences (Hood, et al., 2001). The
Other scales included the Quest Scale (Batson & Schoe-
nrade, 1991), the Religiousness Measure (Sethi & Selig-
man, 1993), the Intrinsic Religious Motivation Scale (Hoge,
1972), and the Index of Core Spiritual Experiences (Kass et
al., 1991). As the focus of the current study was on mystical
experiences, these measures were not analyzed here.
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Mysticism subscale (five items; Cronbach’s
␣⫽.90) measured experiences of unity, includ-
ing items such as, “I have felt at one with all
RSME Impact. Participants rated six sin-
gle-item questions on a 5-point scale (1 much
worse,5significantly better) on how the
experience changed their “family,” “fear of
death,” “health,” “sense of purpose,” “religious-
ness,” and “spirituality.”
RSME Writing Prompt. An open-ended
writing prompt asked participants to
describe in detail the various spiritual and/or religious
experiences that you have had and how they have
affected you. If you have had a specific religious or
spiritual experience(s), please describe it in as much
detail as possible—as long or as short as you wish.
Participants wrote a total of 322,813 words
(M460.5, SD 692.64, median 234,
range 25– 6,776 words per entry).
Data Analyses
To test whether the realness of RSMEs was
related to the extent that the experience was
reported as “mystical,” we first correlated Epis-
temic State with the Mysticism subscale of the
Death Transcendence Scale (Hood & Morris,
1983). To test the relationship between the re-
alness of the experience and how positive the
experience was perceived to be, we correlated
the Epistemic State items with the RSME Im-
pact questions. We also calculated the partial
correlations between the realness of RSMEs and
the above variables, controlling for SES, gen-
der, ethnicity, and religious affiliation.
Then, to explore the qualities underlying
these responses, we drew on methods from
computational linguistics. First, the Linguistic
Inquiry and Word Count program, 2001 version
(LIWC2001; Pennebaker, Francis, & Booth,
2001) tokenized (i.e., split text into separate
words) and counted how often words from 64
different categories (e.g., social processes, func-
tion words, work, pronouns) occurred in each
participant’s writing. We then considered the
relative frequency of each word in each LIWC
dictionary and correlated them with the Epis-
temic State items. We used Bonferoni-corrected
pvalues as a heuristic for identifying meaning-
ful patterns and words.
Descriptive Statistics
Most participants (69.62%) reported that
their RSMEs at the time felt much more real
(47.22%) or somewhat more real (23.40%) than
their usual reality (see Figure 1). Very few
participants (12.41%) rated their RSMEs as
somewhat or much less real than usual reality.
Much less
real (%)
less real (%)
Same (%) Somewhat
more real (%)
Much more
real (%)
Perceived realness relative to usual reality
Perceived Realness of RSMEs
In Hindsight
Figure 1. Perceived realness associated with Religious, spiritual, and mystical experiences
(RSMEs). Participants were asked to remember how real their RSME felt compared with their
usual reality, both during the experience and how real it remained to them in hindsight.
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In hindsight, the perceived realness of RSMEs
somewhat decreased, with 52.07% reporting
that their RSMEs felt much more real (35.95%)
or somewhat more real (16.12%) than usual
reality. Few participants rated their RSME as
less real in hindsight (8.70%).
Perceived realness during RSMEs was posi-
tively correlated with items in the Mysticism
subscale (Hood & Morris, 1983), as well as with
most of the RSME Impact items. Despite some-
what small effect sizes, the strongest correla-
tions were found with the sense of purpose and
spirituality variables (see Table 1). Perceived
realness in hindsight showed a similar pattern of
correlation. Associations remained almost the
same after controlling for SES, gender, ethnic-
ity, and religious affiliations.
Language Results
Table 2 reports significant correlations be-
tween the LIWC2001 (Pennebaker et al., 2001)
categories and the Epistemic State Scale. Par-
ticipants reporting that their RSMEs felt more
real at the time than their usual reality used
more language from the certainty category, r
.16, p.001, including words such as “all,”
“everything,” and “every,” and less language
from the first-person pronoun category, such as
“I” and “me,” r⫽⫺.17, p.001. In hindsight,
the sense of realness related to using more “in-
clusive” words such as “and” and “we,” r.12,
p.01 and fewer “tentative” words such as
“probably” and “might,” r⫽⫺.10, p.05.
Table 2 also reports specific words within cat-
egories that significantly correlated with the
Epistemic State items. For perceived realness
during the experience, the words “love,” “ev-
erything,” and “all” correlated with realness,
whereas the words “I,” “think,” and “not” cor-
related with “unrealness.” In hindsight, “and,”
“we,” “must,” and “love” correlated with real-
ness, while “probably,” “might,” “or,” and
“not” correlated with unrealness.
First, the results from this study support find-
ings that RSMEs often include a noetic quality,
or a sense of realness (e.g., Hood, 1975;Hood
& Williamson, 2000;MacLean et al., 2012).
The noetic quality was reported during RSMEs
as well as in hindsight, measured on a scale
ranging from unreal to realer than real. Second,
the sense of realness correlated with a number
of positive outcomes. Third, feelings of realness
during RSMEs were associated with language
suggesting inclusiveness (e.g., “all,” “every-
thing”) and emotional connection (e.g., “love”),
and negatively associated with self-oriented
language (e.g., “I,” “me”) and indicative of cog-
nitive processing (e.g., “think”). In hindsight,
realness was positively associated with inclu-
siveness (e.g., “and,” “we”) and negatively as-
sociated with tentative language (e.g., “proba-
bly” and “might”). Taken together, these
findings provide some empirical insights into
the role the sense of realness plays in RSMEs.
The finding that RSMEs were rated as real—
and that very few participants rated their experi-
ences as unreal—is notable, as RSMEs have
Table 1
Correlations and Partial Correlations Amongst Epistemic States, Impact of RMSEs, and
Mystical Experiences
Factors 123456789
1. Epistemic State: Realness during the experience .45
2. Epistemic State: Realness after the experience .46
3. RSME Impact: Family .16
4. RSME Impact: Less fear of death .24
.04 .37
5. RSME Impact: Health .22
6. RSME Impact: Purpose .29
7. RSME Impact: Religiousness .09
.05 .15
8. RSME Impact: Spirituality .30
9. Mystical Experience .23
.02 .21
Note. RSME Religious, spiritual, and mystical experience. Pearson correlations are below the diagonal; partial
correlations controlling for socioeconomic status (SES), gender, ethnicity, and religious affiliations are above the diagonal.
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asometimes been conflated with episodes of dere-
alization and depersonalization. For example,
Simeon and Abugel (2006) describe RSMEs as a
form of derealization episode, which “manifests
itself as unpleasant more often than not. People
subjected to it are not looking for a visionary
experience, nor an opportunity to detach from
their previous selves. The result is much more
hellish than heavenly” (p. 149). This view is chal-
lenged by the results of the current study, in which
RSMEs were consistently perceived as more real
than one’s usual sense of reality—not as less real,
as in cases of derealization episodes.
In hindsight, a number of participants adjusted
their impressions of the relative realness of their
RSMEs, which makes more sense when we con-
sider the analogy of dreams. Consider a dream
that seems to contain a prediction about the future.
Many people might report that their dreams
seemed real as they were happening, but many
would, after reflection, reduce their assessments of
how real the dreams seemed in hindsight. Notably,
even in hindsight, few participants indicated that
their RSMEs felt unreal.
The association between the feeling of real-
ness and positive impacts from the experience is
another point of contrast between derealization
episodes and RSMEs found in this study.
Whereas derealization episodes are associated
with maladaptive outcomes such as a lack of
empathy and a sense of disconnection from
other people (Hunter, Sierra, & David, 2004),
RSMEs correlated with positive changes in
family life, reduced fear of death, better health,
and a greater sense of purpose, which aligns
with other research on RSME outcomes (Koe-
nig, King, & Carson, 2012). Although patho-
logical instances of RSMEs, some requiring
therapeutic care, have been described exten-
sively in the clinical literature (Lukoff, Lu, &
Turner, 1992), our findings suggest that RSMEs
more often result in adaptive outcomes. This
provides compelling evidence for future studies
on the connection between RSMEs and well-
being, making the present findings relevant to
positive psychological research (Seligman &
Csikszentmihalyi, 2000;Seligman, 2015). Fu-
ture studies might explore the aspects of those
experiences that contribute to well-being while
also exploring narrative, relational, and contex-
tual factors.
Our linguistic analysis correlating linguistic
features with the Epistemic State items identified
inclusive language related to connection with a
larger whole. Language associated with feelings
of realness included more words such as “all” and
“everything,” and fewer first-person pronouns
such as “I” and “my.” Words such as “all” and
Table 2
Language Categories Associated With Epistemic States
LIWC categories Words
Feeling of realness during the
spiritual experience
Positive correlations Certainty (r.16)
All (r.10)
, everything (r.08)
Quant (r.10)
All (r.10)
Sexual (r.10)
Love (r.11)
Negative correlations I (r⫽⫺.17)
Verb (r⫽⫺.12)
Think (r⫽⫺.16)
, made (r⫽⫺.09)
, I’m (r⫽⫺.09)
died (r⫽⫺.08)
, went (r⫽⫺.07)
Negate (r⫽⫺.10)
Not (r⫽⫺.11)
Feeling of realness in hindsight
Positive correlations Inclusive (r.12)
And (r.10)
Certainty (r.08)
Must (r.08)
Sexual (r.07)
Love (r.09)
Negative correlations Tentative (r⫽⫺.10)
Probably (r⫽⫺.13)
, might (r⫽⫺.08)
someone (r⫽⫺.08)
Negate (r⫽⫺.08)
Not (r⫽⫺.09)
Note. LIWC Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count. LIWC linguistic correlates of the feeling of realness. This table
excludes categories in which words were used fewer than 50 times. The “Words” column includes single words within each
corresponding LIWC category most correlated with the Epistemic State measure.
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“everything” may refer to a greater whole, as in
“at one with all things” or “everything felt alive.”
RSMEs commonly involve, and are sometimes
defined by, a connection to a greater whole and a
diminished sense of self (Hood et al., 2001).
Fewer first-person pronouns may reflect the oft-
reported sense of self fading away into a state of
unity during such experiences (Hood et al., 2009).
This phenomenological interpretation is theoreti-
cally consistent with the nature of RSMEs, espe-
cially the emphasis of selfless unity often found in
mystical experiences (Hood et al., 2001;Newberg
et al., 2001).
An alternative, qualification interpretation of
the language findings is that respondents who
reported heightened realness may have ex-
pressed more assurance in their language,
whereas those with lower realness hedged more.
This seems plausible given that the noetic qual-
ity—the feeling quality or any other subjective
contents associated with the experience— could
reasonably be the subject of doubt and skepti-
cism. Realness was correlated with words such
as “must” and “sure,” which are associated with
making definitive claims that communicate as-
surance in a particular view or belief. On the
other hand, the tentative language category
(e.g., “probably,” “might,” “or”) was negatively
correlated with realness in hindsight. Other
studies examining degrees of certainty have also
found inverse correlations between these two
categories (e.g., Cordova, Cunningham, Carl-
son, & Andrykowski, 2001). The phenomeno-
logical and qualification interpretations are both
plausible explanations of the language data, as
is some combination of both.
Although this study found that RSMEs are of-
ten reported as more real than usual reality, several
limitations should be kept in mind. Participants
voluntarily completed an online survey on spiri-
tual experiences and may not represent the
broader population. The degree of “others” and
“atheists” in this sample is above the U.S. average.
As the feeling of realness in RSMEs is generally
associated with spirituality and religion, we be-
lieve that RSMEs would be rated as even more
real in a more religious or spiritual sample. Future
studies should include more diverse and represen-
tative samples and determine the extent to which
findings generalize or are specific to this sample.
The Epistemic State items used in this study
have not been fully validated and it is possible that
the framing of the questions could impact re-
sponses. The abstract nature of the noetic quality
makes it difficult to develop straightforward ques-
tions about one’s sense of realness. Further, our
analysis was limited to the questions available on
the survey. Future researchers should consider
what “realer than real” means to participants, in-
cluding additional measures that capture other
qualities related to noetic experiences, such as
emotional intensity. In addition, studies might ex-
amine what experiences people compare RMSEs
with, determining the baseline of comparison and
how RMSEs differ from that baseline.
The quantitative linguistic analysis performed
on participants’ writing provided some insight
into the underlying psychological processes re-
lated to the feeling of realness. However, our
interpretations of these data are necessarily spec-
ulative and theory-driven, and exploratory in na-
ture. There was an adequate sample size (over 700
individuals), and we drew on automated textual
analysis techniques, but calculated many correla-
tions, some of which may be significant by chance
alone. Also, although our language-effect sizes
were within the typical range for linguistic analy-
sis techniques (Schwartz et al., 2013), they repre-
sent a small amount of the overall variance and
should be interpreted accordingly. Future studies
should provide more specific hypothesis testing in
addition to qualitative research to disambiguate
our interpretations of the language findings.
Finally, this study focused on RSMEs and the
feeling of realness, an aspect of the noetic qual-
ity often associated with this category of expe-
rience (James, 1902/1985;Stace, 1960;Hood,
1975;MacLean et al., 2012). We have argued
that, although there may be some overlap be-
tween RSMEs and derealization episodes, evi-
dence from this study suggests that they are
distinct mental states with different conse-
quences. However, future researchers should
test these two distinct mental states directly to
provide further information regarding the rela-
tionship between epistemic states like derealiza-
tion, RSMEs, and other varieties of experience.
Our perception of reality is, in at least one
sense, a feeling— one that is subject to change
during certain mental states. The present study
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suggests that RSMEs represent a nonordinary
mental state that often feels “realer than real.”
Although the veracity of any knowledge claims
that accompany this feeling (e.g., “all is one” or
“everything is inherently good”) comprises ques-
tions for philosophy and theology rather than so-
cial science, the data suggest that the feeling of
realness in RSMEs is associated with generally
adaptive outcomes, with self-reported positive im-
pacts across multiple life domains. We hope that
this study can provide a basis for future studies
exploring the feeling of realness—the noetic qual-
ity—in RSMEs and other epistemic states.
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Received February 22, 2016
Revision received July 9, 2016
Accepted July 12, 2016
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... Some studies have named them "Self-Transcendent Experiences" (Newberg et al. , and so on. "Religious, Spiritual, Mystical Experiences" is a designation that was used in a study of their noetic qualities (Yaden et al. 2017), and being the broadest, is most suitable for capturing the diversity of experiences. The use of this designation herein is also part of an effort to normalize the idea that such experiences need not be mediated by religious schemas, as will be argued. ...
... A study measuring the noetic quality of (what the integrated model would categorize as great) RSMEs (Yaden et al. 2017) found that they had a quality of feeling "realer than real" 61). This was despite there being a higher-than-average number of atheist participants, which seems to lend support to the idea of an integrated model, since such noetic qualities were also, evidently, independent of religious schemas. ...
... These in turn are hardwired in humans and intimately connected with collective life, group survival, and community uilding" (Vaillant, 2008;. Groups of experiencers are certainly poised to interact with one another in a more unified manner since they would both share common experiences and because the RSME itself elicits feelings of unity and altruism (Yaden et al. 2017). ...
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Religious, spiritual, and mystical experiences (RSMEs) hold the potential to bring about transformative changes in individuals, according to studies in the field of neuroscience. This essay explores the psychological and social effects of RSMEs, including the promotion of positive attitudes such as compassion, empathy, and altruism, and the modification of beliefs. Despite ongoing debates about their nature, whether they are sui generis or attributional phenomena or a combination of both, this essay adopts an integrated model. The transformative potential of RSMEs cannot be overlooked, and the recognition of their utility in this context is well warranted.
... In this case, the insights can be considered intersubjectively false as they are not based in reality and yet are highly inflexible which makes these insight events maladaptive. Similarly, psychedelic insights have a noetic quality: they just feel true (Carhart-Harris & Friston, 2019; Girn et al., 2020;Yaden et al., 2017). Even solutions to simple puzzles in the problem-solving setting are less mutable to change when achieved through insight (Hedne et al., 2016). ...
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Occasionally, a solution or idea arrives as a sudden understanding - an insight. Insight has been considered an "extra" ingredient of creative thinking and problem-solving. Here we propose that insight is central in seemingly distinct areas of research. Drawing on literature from a variety of fields, we show that besides being commonly studied in problem-solving literature, insight is also a core component in psychotherapy and meditation, a key process underlying the emergence of delusions in schizophrenia, and a factor in the therapeutic effects of psychedelics. In each case, we discuss the event of insight and its prerequisites and consequences. We review evidence for the commonalities and differences between the fields and discuss their relevance for capturing the essence of the insight phenomenon. The goal of this integrative review is to bridge the gap between the different views and inspire interdisciplinary research efforts for understanding this central process of human cognition.
... L'absence de limite qui dé coule du sentiment océ anique (oceanic boundlessness) modifie l'expé rience personnelle de soi qui s'accompagne d'un sentiment euphorique d'exaltation [52]. Dans leur é tude, les é tats mystiques sont dé crits comme des é tats de conscience non ordinaires durant lesquels la ré alité semble être « plus ré elle que ré elle » et où le mot « amour » revient de nombreuses fois dans les té moignages [53]. Il n'é tait pas rare dans notre recherche d'entendre les expé rienceurs utiliser des adjectifs emphatiques pour dé crire la beauté de leur vé cu (merveilleux, magique, sublime´, incroyable, orgasmique. . ...
Résumé L’expérience extraordinaire (ExE), comme son nom l’indique, est une expérience qui sort de l’ordinaire et ne correspond pas au modèle de la réalité connue en termes de qualités et de processus. Le défi des chercheurs en ce domaine repose sur la question : l’ExE est-elle un symptôme psychopathologique qu’il faut soigner ou une expansion de conscience qu’il faut accompagner et encourager ? Plusieurs études se sont intéressées à mieux définir l’un ou l’autre de ces phénomènes ou à créer des échelles pour les distinguer. Objectif Dans la recherche présente, l’objectif repose sur une mise en parallèle de toutes les expériences extraordinaires afin d’investiguer et de rassembler les aspects communs qui la caractérisent. Cette première étape permet d’accroître les connaissances à ce sujet dans le but de créer à moyen terme un instrument de screening qui aidera les intervenants en psychiatrie à adapter le suivi pour ces personnes au vécu si particulier. Méthode Vingt-sept participants concernés par cette thématique ont raconté leur récit à trois chercheurs juges qui ont analysé leur contenu de manière qualitative afin d’en déduire des caractéristiques communes. Résultats Vingt-trois catégories similaires en termes de contenu thématique ont émergé. Cinq étapes importantes sont apparues qui aident à appréhender l’ExE comme un processus dynamique avec un début, un passage, un milieu, un retour et une fin qui mène à des conséquences psychologiques et personnelles positives. Conclusion L’analyse qualitative de toutes les expériences extraordinaires confondues a permis de faire émerger 23 aspects communs qui se dessinent le long d’un processus temporel dynamique. Les résultats tendent à montrer que ce type de vécu amène à des changements positifs chez les personnes concernées plutôt qu’à des symptômes psychopathologiques.
... They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule, they carry with them a curious sense of authority for after-time" (James, 1985, p. 380-381). Research into the noetic quality of religious, spiritual, and mystical experiences (Beauregard, 2011) describe the "perceptions of unity, ineffability, positive emotions, and sacredness" that often occur with such experiences (Yaden et al., 2017). Others have used the term noetic in a different context, such as Endel Tulving, who used the terms anoetic (non-knowing), noetic (knowing), and autonoetic June 2022 | Volume 13 | Article 838582 Wahbeh et al. ...
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Noetic comes from the Greek word noēsis, meaning inner wisdom or direct knowing. Noetic experiences often transcend the perception of our five senses and are ubiquitous worldwide, although no instrument exists to evaluate noetic characteristics both within and between individuals. We developed the Noetic Signature Inventory (NSI) through an iterative qualitative and statistical process as a tool to subjectively assess noetic characteristics. Study 1 developed and evaluated a 175-item NSI using 521 self-selected research participants, resulting in a 46-item NSI with an 11-factor model solution. Study 2 examined the 11-factor solution, construct validity, and test–retest reliability, resulting in a 44-item NSI with a 12-factor model solution. Study 3 confirmed the final 44-item NSI in a diverse population. The 12-factors were: (1) Inner Knowing, (2) Embodied Sensations, (3) Visualizing to Access or Affect, (4) Inner Knowing Through Touch, (5) Healing, (6) Knowing the Future, (7) Physical Sensations from Other People, (8) Knowing Yourself, (9) Knowing Other’s Minds, (10) Apparent Communication with Non-physical Beings, (11) Knowing Through Dreams, and (12) Inner Voice. The NSI demonstrated internal consistency, convergent and divergent content validity, and test–retest reliability. The NSI can be used for the future studies to evaluate intra- and inter-individual variation of noetic experiences.
... /2022 Unique acute drug effects on episodic memory 2021). In contrast to blackouts or K-holes, psychedelics impairing recollection, which is associated with autonoetic consciousness, while sparing familiarity, which is associated with noetic consciousness, is consistent with the phenomenological state of 'ego dissolution' from which memories are formed with a noetic quality (Yaden et al., 2017) but lack self-relevance (Conway, 2005;Letheby and Gerrans, 2017). ...
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Despite distinct classes of psychoactive drugs producing putatively unique states of consciousness, there is surprising overlap in terms of their effects on episodic memory and cognition more generally. Episodic memory is supported by multiple subprocesses that have been mostly overlooked in psychopharmacology and could differentiate drug classes. Here, we reanalyzed episodic memory confidence data from 10 previously published datasets (28 drug conditions total) using signal detection models to estimate 2 conscious states involved in episodic memory and 1 consciously-controlled metacognitive process of memory: the retrieval of specific details from one’s past (recollection), noetic recognition in the absence of retrieved details (familiarity), and accurate introspection of memory decisions (metamemory). We observed that sedatives, dissociatives, psychedelics, stimulants, and cannabinoids had unique patterns of effects on these mnemonic processes dependent on which phase of memory (encoding, consolidation, or retrieval) was targeted. All drugs at encoding except stimulants impaired recollection, and sedatives, dissociatives, and cannabinoids at encoding impaired familiarity. The effects of sedatives on metamemory were mixed, whereas dissociatives and cannabinoids at encoding tended to enhance metamemory. Surprisingly, psychedelics at encoding tended to enhance familiarity and did not impact metamemory. Stimulants at encoding and retrieval enhanced metamemory, but at consolidation, they impaired metamemory. Together, these findings may have relevance to mechanisms underlying unique subjective phenomena under different drug classes, such as blackouts from sedatives or déjà vu from psychedelics. This study provides a framework for interrogating drug effects within a domain of cognition beyond the global impairments on task performance typically reported in psychopharmacology. Public significance statement This systematic review and reanalysis of several datasets indicate that sedatives (alcohol, zolpidem, triazolam), dissociatives (ketamine, dextromethorphan), psychedelics (psilocybin, MDMA), stimulants (dextroamphetamine, dextromethamphetamine), and cannabinoids (THC) can each have idiosyncratic effects on episodic memory, differentially impairing certain mnemonic processes while sparing or even facilitating others. Such findings inform how different drugs can produce unique subjective phenomena and provide a framework for future work to differentiate the effects of psychoactive drugs within a domain of cognition.
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The achievement of sustainable prosperity requires the enhancement of human wellbeing alongside increased care for the environment. In recent years, much has been written on the role of different mental states and their potential to influence our way of thinking and, perhaps more importantly, the way we act. In this working paper, we explore the emerging potential of a type of mental state known as Self-Transcendent Experiences (STEs) to deliver beneficial effects on human wellbeing and sustainable attitudes and behaviours. Self-transcendent experiences can be facilitated by experiences of flow, awe and meditation, as well as psychedelic experiences. Some of these experiences can occur naturally, through sometimes unexpected encounters with nature or during immersion in every-day activities that one intrinsically enjoys, as well as through more intentional practices such as meditation or the use of psychedelics. We demonstrate how each of the four alternative types of STEs share some similar neurological underpinnings and review their links to improvements in human wellbeing and sustainable attitudes and behaviours. We also highlight potential risks across the different varieties of STEs and consider factors that need to be considered if they are to be employed as a practical means of supporting sustainable prosperity.
For some church members the pandemic may have been a challenge to faith, while for others the pandemic may have been an opportunity to re-kindle faith and to trigger spiritual awakening. A sample of 3,673 churchgoers (Anglican and Catholic) completed an online survey during the early months of the lockdown including the Lewis Index of Spiritual Awakening ( LISA ). The data demonstrated that more participants experienced a sense of spiritual awakening than a spiritual decline. Spiritual awakening was associated with personal factors (being female and older), with psychological factors (feeling types, intuitive types, and emotional stability), with religious identity (being Catholic), with theological tradition (being charismatic and conservative), and with active engagement in online services (lighting candles or typing in prayer requests). Experiencing spiritual awakening during the early months of the lockdown is, thus, associated with religious, theological, and spiritual practices, as well as with personal and psychological factors.
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Human engagement with religion and spirituality is pervasive across the world, yet the extent to which religious and/or spiritual involvement promotes well-being is controversial theoretically and empirically. In the largest meta-analysis of religion/spirituality and life satisfaction to date (k = 256, N = 666,085), an overall effect size was computed (r = .18; 95% CI .16–.19; p < .01). Five dimensions of religion/spirituality were then examined separately to gauge their relationships with life satisfaction. Each dimension of religion/spirituality was significantly and positively associated with life satisfaction: religiosity (r = .16, 95% CI .14–.17, p < .01), spirituality (r = .30, 95% CI .25–.35, p < .01), religious attendance (r = .11, 95% CI .09–.13, p < .01), religious practices (r = .14, 95% CI .10–.18, p < .01), and religious/spiritual experiences (r = .29, 95% CI .24–.33, p < .01). The overall effect was moderated by several study-related variables, with a stronger relationship found in samples with higher average age, in more recent studies, in developing nations, and in countries with a higher percentage of people who consider religion very important in their lives. The theoretical and practical implications of the meta-analysis are discussed.
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This paper provides a critical review of several possible mechanisms at different levels of analysis underlying the effects and therapeutic potential of psychedelics. At the (1) biochemical level, psychedelics primarily affect the 5-HT2a receptor, increase neuroplasticity, offer a critical period for social reward learning and have anti-inflammatory properties. At the (2) neural level, psychedelics have been associated with reduced efficacy of thalamo-cortical filtering, the loosening of top-down predictive signaling and an increased sensitivity to bottom-up prediction errors, and activation of the claustro-cortical-circuit. At the (3) psychological level, psychedelics have been shown to induce altered and affective states, they affect cognition, induce belief change, exert social effects and can result in lasting changes in behavior. We outline the potential for a unifying account of the mechanisms underlying psychedelics and contrast this with a model of pluralistic causation. Ultimately, a better understanding of the specific mechanisms underlying the effects of psychedelics could allow for a more targeted therapeutic approach. We highlight current challenges for psychedelic research and provide a research agenda to foster insight in the causal-mechanistic pathways underlying the efficacy of psychedelic research and therapy.
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How a positive naturalist understanding of mystical experiences is possible and how these experiences and accompanying practices can be incorporated into a secular mysticism are discussed. Philosophical issues related to such a secular mysticism are also raised: is a truly secular mysticism possible? Are mystical experiences cognitive of transcendent non-natural realities? Can secular mysticism address the issue of the possible construction of mystical experiences? Can one find meaning or a purpose to life when non-natural realities and life after death are not parts of the picture?
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Experiences of profound existential or spiritual significance can be triggered reliably through psychopharmacological means using psychedelic substances. However, little is known about the benefits of religious, spiritual, or mystical experiences (RSMEs) prompted by psychedelic substances, as compared with those that occur through other means. In this study, 739 self-selected participants reported the psychological impact of their RSMEs and indicated whether they were induced by a psychedelic substance. Experiences induced by psychedelic substances were rated as more intensely mystical (d = .75, p < .001), resulted in a reduced fear of death (d = .21, p < .01), increased sense of purpose (d = .18, p < .05), and increased spirituality (d = .28, p < .001) as compared with nonpsychedelically triggered RSMEs. These results remained significant in an expanded model controlling for gender, education, socioeconomic status, and religious affiliation. These findings lend support to the growing consensus that RSMEs induced with psychedelic substances are genuinely mystical and generally positive in outcome.
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Viewing the Earth from space has often prompted astronauts to report overwhelming emotion and feelings of identification with humankind and the planet as a whole. In this article, we explore this experience, known as the “overview effect.” We examine astronaut accounts of the overview effect and suggest existing psychological constructs, such as awe and self-transcendent experience, that might contribute to a psychological understanding of this experience. We argue that the overview effect suggests directions for future research on altered states of consciousness in new contexts, with potential implications for better understanding well-being in isolated, confined, extreme (ICE) environments such as space flight.
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According to Gallup polls, more than 40 percent of Americans report having had a profound religious experience or awakening that changed the direction of their lives. What are the potential mental, spiritual, and even physical benefits of following the call to take a particular path in life? This standout book addresses the full range of calling experiences, from work that is interpreted as particularly meaningful, to “A-ha!” moments of special insight, to pondering what one is meant to do in life, to intense spiritual experiences like Saint Paul on the road to Damascus. Drawing upon the collective knowledge and insight of expert authors from Australia, China, Italy, the UK, and the United States, the work provides a comprehensive examination of the topic of callings suitable for collegiate students, professors, and professional scholars interested in topics at the interface of science and religion. It will also benefit general readers seeking the expertise of psychologists, neuroscientists, theologians, and philosophers from various backgrounds and worldviews who examine the phenomenon of feeling called.
Research on intrinsic and extrinsic religion has been troubled by conceptual diffuseness and questionable scale validity. Hunt and King have proposed greater specificity in conceptualization and measurement in future work. This paper attempts to specify and measure a single crucial dimension identified by Hunt and King, namely ultimate versus instrumental religious motivation. Two validation studies were done utilizing persons nominated by ministers as having either ultimate (intrinsic) or instrumental (extrinsic) religious motivation. A new 10-item Intrinsic Religious Motivation Scale is proposed, and measurement problems are discussed.
Self-transcendent experiences are often spontaneous, but they can also be induced through contemplative practices, in ritual contexts, and by ingesting substances – in this chapter we suggest that this list will soon include direct neural stimulation. Though not currently used for these purposes, new direct neural stimulation methods are capable of altering or enhancing a number of mental functions. We review research on self-transcendent experiences, their underlying neurobiology, as well as recent technological advances in noninvasive brain stimulation methods. We then discuss the feasibility of utilizing this technology to induce self-transcendent experiences, consider ethical issues raised by this prospect, and provide some compelling visions of potential applications.
Psychoactive stimulation and psychoactive substances have both similar and different potential research and clinical applications. They differ in their historical contexts, socio-cultural connotations, and neurobiological delivery systems – not to mention the common sense phenomenological dissimilarities between taking a pill and having an apparatus around one’s head. At the same time, in principle, they raise many of the same ethical and epistemological concerns. Our discussion is framed within the possibility that psychoactive stimulation may come to provide a complimentary research and application technique to using psychoactive substances.
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According to Google Scholar, the 1st edition of the Handbook, published in 2001, is the most cited of any book or research article on religion and health in the past forty years (Google 2011). This new edition is completely re-written, and in fact, really serves as a second volume to the 1st edition. The 2nd edition focuses on the latest research published since the year 2000 and therefore complements the 1st edition that examined research prior to that time. Both volumes together provide a full survey of research published from 1872 through 2010 -- describing and synthesizing results from over 3,000 studies. The Second Edition covers the latest original quantitative scientific research, and therefore will be of greatest use to religion/spirituality-health researchers and educators. Together with the First Edition, this Second Edition will save a tremendous amount of time in locating studies done worldwide, as well as provide not only updated research citations but also explain the scientific rationale on which such relationships might exist. This volume will also be of interest to health professionals and religious professionals wanting to better understand these connections, and even laypersons who desire to learn more about how R/S influences health.
Clinical observations suggesting a relationship between spiritual experiences, life purpose and satisfaction, and improvements in physical health led to the development of an Index of Core Spiritual Experience (INSPIRIT). Data from 83 medical outpatients showed the INSPIRIT to have a strong degree of internal reliability and concurrent validity. Multiple regression analyses showed the INSPIRIT to be associated with: (1) increased life purpose and satisfaction, a health-promoting attitude; and (2) decreased frequency of medical symptoms.