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A brief review of studies of out-of-body experiences in both the healthy and pathological populations

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This paper presents a brief overview of some of the out-of-body experiences (OBEs) studied in both the healthy and pathological populations, as well as experiences of paranormal phenomena, with features common to OBEs, in the healthy population. Since spontaneous OBEs in the healthy population are rare, there is a lack of studies describing possible psychological, as well as physiological, mechanisms driving this type of OBE. Consequently, most OBE research available today describes the semiology, phenomenology, etiology, as well as the neurocognitive features of OBEs within the pathological population, as opposed to the healthy population. Below we present an overview of some of the research aimed at identifying OBEs occurring in both healthy as well as pathological individuals.
A Brief Review of Studies of Out-of-Body Experiences in both
the Healthy and Pathological Populations
Julia Sellers
Independent Researcher
This paper presents a brief overview of some of the out-of-body experiences
(OBEs) studied in both the healthy and pathological populations, as well as
experiences of paranormal phenomena, with features common to OBEs, in
the healthy population. Since spontaneous OBEs in the healthy population
are rare, there is a lack of studies describing possible psychological, as well as
physiological, mechanisms driving this type of OBE. Consequently, most OBE
research available today describes the semiology, phenomenology, etiology, as
well as the neurocognitive features of OBEs within the pathological population,
as opposed to the healthy population. Below we present an overview of some
of the research aimed at identifying OBEs occurring in both healthy as well as
pathological individuals.
Keywords: out-of -body ex perience, temporal parietal junction, brain waves,
consciousness, paranormal.
1. Introduction
The phenomenology of out-of-body experiences (OBEs) has been
described somewhat differently in individual studies. According to Blanke
and Arzy (2005), an OBE is an event during which one’s visual perspective
Journal of Cognitive Science 19-4:471-491, 2018
©2018 Institute for Cognitive Science, Seoul National University
Julia Sellers
and one’s self are experienced to have departed from their habitual position
within one’s body. Irwin described OBEs as a state of the experiencer
during which “the centre of consciousness appears, to the experiencer,
to temporarily occupy a position which is spatially remote from his/her
body” (Irwin, 1985, p.5). A study conducted by Messier and Smith (2014)
described the OBE as an experience which is based on both visual as well
as somaesthetic perception during which the physical body, seen from a
third person point of view, is illusory. Blackmore suggested an OBE is an
experience in which the experiencer “seems to perceive the world from a
location outside his physical body” (Blackmore, 1982, p.1).
It is interesting that many people who have experienced OBEs reported
that the experience itself felt very real while it was happening (Blanke,
Brugger, and Mohr, 2006). The studies conducted on OBEs agree on a
number of similar features which usually accompany the phenomenon. The
main characteristics of a simple OBE include features such as a profound
sensation of being located outside of the body (Messier and Smith, 2014, p.2),
a subjective meaningfulness and enhanced reality (Anzellotti et al., 2011,
p.5), and the sensory perception of oating in an elevated position (Blanke
et al., 2002; Bos et al., 2016; Messier and Smith, 2014; Sellers, 2017). During
an OBE, the unity of the body and the self seem to be broken as reported by
many out-of-body experiencers, including the rst hand experience of the
author (Sellers, 2017).
Thorough scientific research as well as evidence that would specify
neural correlates of OBEs within the healthy population is missing due to
the fact that they occur so rarely. Consequently, only a handful of studies
examining how the brain functions during an OBE were conducted with
out-of-body experiencers representing healthy individuals. These include
studies of Persinger, Tart, Osis, and Messier & Smith. Somatosensory
A Brief Review of Studies of Out-of-Body Experiences in both the Healthy and Pathological Populations
as well as vestibular challenges were recognized as typical elements of
OBEs in many studies. Some researchers would posit that OBEs involve
complex body illusions (Blanke, 2005). In their study, Arzy and Blanke
(2005) implicated failure of multisensory integration between the physical
body and the temporal parietal junction (TPJ) as the possible etiology of
the OBE. On the other hand, research by Braithwaite, Daltrozzo, Guelers,
Karim, and Kotchoubey (2016) found no role of the right TPJ in abnormal
body perception. Whether insufcient multisensory own body processing
is the probable cause of OBEs, as suggested by Blanke et al. (2004), would
have to be identied by further research.
We posit that fully blown OBEs have to be distinguished from out-of-
body-like experiences. These should be identied as a separate category as
their etiology might be different from the etiology of fully blown OBEs.
Out-of-body-like experiences might include cases of body parts distortions
created under a virtual reality setting, or autoscopic hallucinations during
which individuals are able to see their own physical body from the
egocentric rather than elevated visuospatial perspective (Sellers, 2017).
Prior research has already shown robotic gadgets might be able to elicit out-
of-body hallucinations (similar to OBEs) by manipulating the sense of self-
location (Chapuis, Fornari, Heydrich, Ionta, Lenggenhager, and Mouthon et
al., 2011). Self-location is directly linked to the sense of self-consciousness.
Furthermore, it was documented that virtual reality, under different settings,
produced out-of-body sensations similar to OBEs, during an experiment
which was able to break the existing unity between the physical body and
the consciousness which it embodied (Blanke, Lenggenhager, Metzinger,
and Tadi, 2007). The experiment resulted in making people believe a virtual
body was their own. Further, OBEs can be induced by electrical stimulation
of the cortex, shown by prior research studies. It is worth noting that the
majority of OBEs caused either by an articial stimulation of parts of the
Julia Sellers
brain, or elicited by brain damage, implicate the angular gyrus on the right
side (Blanke, 2012).
2. OBE studies within the healthy population
2.1. The case of a 24-year- old student
OBEs studies reveal that more than 10% of the healthy population
have experienced an OBE at some point (Blackmore, 1982; Irwin, 1985).
According to Alvarado (1989), the first survey on OBE occurrence was
conducted by Hart in 1954. In his study on the experimental induction
of OBEs, Ehrsson (2007) claims his research demonstrated the first ever
experimental method of induction of an OBE in the healthy population.
However, Ehrsson, in his experiments, did not succeed in inducing a
full blown OBE. Apart from experiencing the visual perception of their
own physical body, from a location different than from within their
own body, the experiencer failed to experience other important features
accompanied by full blown OBEs such as the enhanced sense of reality,
subjective meaningfulness, clear perception of the Self existing apart from
the physical body, as well as seeing ones physical body from an elevated
position. Consequently, the type of OBE induced in Ehrsson’s study should
be classified as an out-of-body-like experience. And regardless, the case
study on OBEs conducted by Sellers (2017) indicated that seeing one’s
physical body, from a position that seems to be outside of the physical body,
is not a prerequisite of experiencing an out-of-body state. Furthermore,
one of the important differences, between OBE and OBE-like experiences,
is the incidence of apparently nonphysical veridical perception (AVP),
occurring in 19% of all documented OBE cases (Alvarado 2000). It is
also worth noting that, in his study, Nahm (2015) correctly points out that
reducing OBEs to OBE-like experiences, such as autoscopies, might convey
a misleading concept of OBEs in general.
A Brief Review of Studies of Out-of-Body Experiences in both the Healthy and Pathological Populations
Messier and Smith (2014) claimed to have induced an OBE at will in a
24-year-old healthy female student. She reported having the ability to leave
her physical body at will. She also reported instances of watching herself
move from above, while perceiving herself clearly from outside of the
boundaries of her own physical body. However, as indicated by the study,
the OBEs of the student did not occur spontaneously. Instead, they were
induced at will, as reported by the research subject. The other OBE element
described in the study, which is not very common with OBEs, concerned
the absence of feelings or any specific emotions linked to the patient’s
conscious mind when out-of-body. In most OBEs there is some form of
emotion present. However, it is also true that some out-of-body experiencers
report neutral, versus elevated, emotions when experiencing an OBE.
Many out-of-body experiencers report fear of a “permanent separation of
consciousness from the physical body” and fear of the “inability to return to
the physical body” (Sellers, 2017).
Messier and Smith, in their study, refer to an OBE as an extra corporeal
experience (ECE). The brain imagery of the subject experiencing the
ECE revealed left-sided activation of the supplementary motor area.
Furthermore, supramarginal and posterior superior temporal gyri were
involved, to a certain degree. This is intriguing as the gyri are located
at the temporal parietal junction (TPJ) which was implicated in OBEs
by many prior researches (Blanke, 2002; Blanke & Mohr, 2005; Arzy &
Blanke, 2005; Fang & Yan, 2014; Blanke et al., 2005). The supramarginal
gyrus, which is close to the angular gyrus (also implicated in OBEs), might
further be involved with the processing, as well as the perception, of a
language. Dysfunctions in this area of the brain might cause the so-called
receptive aphasia (challenges in understanding written as well as spoken
language). This is in line with the study of Sellers (2017) reporting a case
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of a spontaneous out-of-body experiencer who, when experiencing OBEs,
would show some signs similar to aphasia, dyslexia, dyspraxia, agnosia
(spatial and visual), as well as alexia.
The brain imagery as reported in Messier and Smith’s study further
showed decreased activity of the visual cortex (occipital lobe) of the brain
(bilaterally) during the OBE of the experiencer, who during the experience
was able to watch herself from above her own body, spinning along the
horizontal axis. Interestingly, decreased activity over occipital regions was
revealed by two other studies researching OBEs in healthy individuals,
which are described in the chapters below.
The results of the study conducted by Messier and Smith implicating the
left TPJ in eliciting OBEs in the healthy population are quite intriguing and
should undergo further scientic research. Interestingly, the results seem to
support the study conducted by Bos, Schouten, Smits, Spoor, and Vincent
(2016), which too indicates implication of the left, as opposed to the right,
TPJ in eliciting OBEs. The study involves the clinical population and
describes a patient who underwent craniotomy while awake, during which
she reported a oating sensation after subcortical stimulation near her left
TPJ. During the operation, the left angular and supramarginal gyrus were
stimulated, which apparently led to a full blown OBE. It is also intriguing
that the region stimulated during the craniotomy was located in direct
proximity to bers running from the posterior thalamus to the occipital lobe.
Both the posterior thalamus as well as the occipital lobes were implicated
in OBEs of the healthy population in studies conducted by Persinger (2001)
and Osis & Mitchel (1997).
2.2. The case of Ingo Swann
An interesting case of possible out-of-body experiences in a healthy
A Brief Review of Studies of Out-of-Body Experiences in both the Healthy and Pathological Populations
individual was described in Persinger’s study (2001). It involved anomalous
cognition of a talented remote viewer, Ingo Swann. The subject showed
brain activity of 7 Hz over the occipital region of his brain (bilaterally)
while engaging in remote viewing. It is interesting that the 7 Hz brain
activity was of a paroxysmal nature and its proportion was in correlation
with the accuracy of the information Ingo Swann was reporting during his
remote viewing episodes. Furthermore, it is intriguing that the paroxysmal
7 Hz spike wave activity only showed during the individual remote
viewing sessions and was not detectable during the time Ingo Swann was
not engaged in remote viewing. Persinger speculated that a possible source
of the 7 Hz wave activity might have been the hippocampal amygdaloid
which is partially connected with perceptions of emotions. We can speculate
that since the spikes correlate with the onset of normal sleep, they might be
analogous to some sort of special waking dreams. Prior research suggested
that waking dreams or states of drowsiness draw strong similarities with
OBEs (Tart, 1998).
Another experiment involving Ingo Swann was conducted by Osis and
Mitchel (1977). The results of the experiment clearly showed a decreased
amplitude of EEG during Swann’s OBE when compared to the amplitude
of a normal non-OBE state of the brain. Furthermore, the strongest decrease
in EEG amplitude was over the occipital lobes. This seems to be in line
with the study of Messier and Smith (2014) which showed that one of the
elements of the OBEs experienced by his subject (a healthy individual) was
a signicantly decreased activity within the visual cortex (in the occipital
lobe). Interestingly, the results of the research of Osis (1979) studying the
OBEs of Alex Tanous, who too represented the healthy population, showed
a similar outcome. During the OBEs, the occipital region of Alex Tanous,
where the visual cortex is located, showed lower activity. According to Osis,
during the OBE, Tanous showed lower electrical activity in the back of his
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brain. Osis hypothesized the decreased electrical activity indicated changes
in Tanous consciousness.
2.3. The cases of Miss Z and Robert Monroe
Another important study that shed much light on the nature of
spontaneous OBEs within healthy individuals was the study conducted by
Charles Tart. Tart (1968) conducted a couple of experiments with Miss Z,
who claimed to experience OBEs at will. According to Tart, the EEG during
the individual episodes of OBEs experienced by Miss Z was dominated
by the so-called alphoid activity. Alphoid activity is one to one and a half
cycles per second slower than the normal alpha rhythm. Furthermore, the
OBE episodes of Miss Z were mixed with periods of waking. Tart would
not elaborate further as to possible causes of the alphoid activity or what
might have triggered the reported decrease in alpha activity. Also intriguing
was that Miss Z reported an OBE always when an alphoid pattern without
accompanying REMs was revealed by the EEG.
Further research on OBEs conducted by Tart involved Robert Monroe, a
well known frequent out-of-body experiencer. During the experiment that
took place in 1968, Monroe’s OBEs showed a brain wave pattern similar
to a Stage I ordinary dreaming pattern (Tart, 1998). It consisted of theta
waves as well as some alphoid activity. Theta rhythm is typical for ordinary
sleeping and is a part of the Stage I sleeping pattern. Alphoid activity,
according to Tart, might be classied as drowsiness.
Interestingly, the findings drawn from the case of Miss Z show some
general similarities with the key ndings presented in the study of Monroe’s
OBEs. During the OBEs both Miss Z as well as Monroe showed EEG
patterns of theta and alpha activity that is typical for ordinary dreaming. It
further showed alphoid rhythm, which is a strange type of activity, similar
A Brief Review of Studies of Out-of-Body Experiences in both the Healthy and Pathological Populations
to that of a waking dream. It seems that the alpha rhythm was substituted
by the alphoid rhythm. However, Monroes alphoid activity was not as
extensive as in the case of Miss Z. Additionally, Monroe showed REMs
in his second OBE (the rst OBE did not detect REMs), while Miss Z did
not show REMs during her episodes of OBEs at all. Tart (1998) further
speculated that the hypnagogic state produced deliberately by Monroe
during his OBEs (involving theta and alphoid rhythms) might share some
common features with the meditation of Zen masters. This seems to be
in line with the study of the Hemi-Sync application aimed at observing
synchronization of brain waves of different subjects (Sadigh and Kozicky,
2017). The study showed that after applying Hemi-Sync, the primary brain
activity of an individual subject was that of synchronized theta, while the
secondary activity was that of synchronized alpha. It is interesting that
achieving fully synchronized theta states is also reported in Zen meditations
and may be compared to the states of wake sleeping, wakeful dreams, or
controlled dreaming (Tart, 1968). Individuals who learn how to produce
increased alpha brain activity might be able to control their dreams and be
fully aware of them.
3. Paranormal experiences in the healthy population with
features similar to out-of-body experiences
3.1. Temporal lobe and paranormal experiences
In his study on the neuropsychiatry of paranormal experiences, Persinger
(2001) described an interesting case involving anomalous cognition of Mr.
Harribance. Reportedly, the subject was able to give readings to people
who he met for the rst time based upon images formed and perceived in
his left visual space. The information Mr. Harribance received about the
people came to him spontaneously. The study revealed that when engaged
in this activity Mr. Harribance’s EEG showed increased alpha activity over
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the parietal and occipital regions. The increased activity of alpha rhythm in
either the parietal or occipital region, similar to the case of Mr. Harribance,
was revealed by the EEG rhythms of Alex Tanous, as well as Ingo Swann,
when engaging in out-of body states. Furthermore, increased alpha activity
was measured during the OBE episodes of Miss Z as well as Robert
Monroe. However, the studies involving Miss Z and Monroe did not discuss
specic regions of the brain which might have been involved in producing
the increased alpha activity.
Another study of Persinger (1984) revealed intriguing EEG activity in
separate cases of glossolalia and transcendental meditation. It showed delta
wave activity in the temporal lobe that lasted about 10 seconds and occurred
during transcendental meditation. The second case involved spike wave
activity in the temporal lobe of an individual who performed glossolalia.
Both cases represent healthy individuals with no history of pathology.
Based on the study, Persinger hypothesized that experiences of mystical and
religious nature naturally occur in the temporal lobe and are of a transient
3.2. Temporal lobe disturbances
Persinger and Valliant (1985) conducted thorough research into
disturbances in the temporal lobe pertaining to the healthy population, as
opposed to the pathological population. The study surprisingly showed that
temporal lobe disturbances within the healthy population lead to mystical
and paranormal experiences. The study further reported auditory-vestibular
experiences such vibrations, hearing one’s name called, as well as olfactory
auras, and depersonalization symptoms. According to Persinger, having a
mystical or paranormal experience might be connected to temporal lobe
transient electrical foci, which he proposed in his earlier study (Persinger,
A Brief Review of Studies of Out-of-Body Experiences in both the Healthy and Pathological Populations
Persinger further argued that anomalous perception, identied as “a sense
of presence”, in the healthy population can also be related to the disturbance
of the temporal lobe (Persinger, 2001; Persinger and Makarec, 1986). This
seems to be consistent with Sellers’ case report (2017) in which a healthy
subject experienced increased spirituality and mysticism, including the
sense of presence, in some of his spontaneous OBEs. Moreover, Persinger
suggested that “both the occurrence of paranormal experiences and their
rates of incidence are associated with specific types of neuronal activity
within the temporal lobes” (Persinger, 2001, p.515).
Results linking temporal lobe disturbances with anomalous perception in
the healthy population were further demonstrated by the Cardiff Anomalous
Perception Scale study (CAPS) aimed at researching anomalous perception.
The research was conducted by Bell et al. (2006). During the study, the
Cardiff Anomalous Perception Scale (CAPS) was presented to participants
of the healthy population. The results showed that high scores of temporal
lobe disturbances were linked with anomalous perception. Disturbances in
the temporal lobe revealed by the CAPS mostly involved a feeling of sensed
presence, sensations of being uplifted, and distortions of time, as well as
own body distortions, among others. Apart from implicating temporal lobe
instability, the study pointed out that the distortion of processing, pertaining
to bodily sensations, is a signicant sign of OBE in the healthy population.
The study claimed to be the first to research a predisposition to OBEs in
the healthy population. This seems to be in line with a more recent study,
which suggested that temporal lobe instability played an important role in
anomalous perception, such as own body processing, in participants of the
healthy population who either reported having experienced an OBE before
or with no prior OBE (Apperly, Braithwaite, Broglia, Hulleman, & Samson,
2011 ) .
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The connection between the disturbance of the temporal lobe and
accounts of paranormal and anomalous cognition was established not
only in the healthy population, but in the pathological population as well
(Persinger, 2001). According to Persinger (2001), people with mild brain
injuries would have frequent paranormal episodes, as well as mystical
accounts, including the feeling of a presence. Most of the paranormal
episodes would be attributed to the right side of the brain. Specifically,
the patients would show heightened brain activity over the parietal and
temporal regions. This is in line with the study of Devinsky who reported
that individuals suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy would undergo
religious or spiritual experiences in between, during, or after seizures
(Devinsky and Lai, 2008). Furthermore, the study conducted by Blanke
et al. (2002) found disturbances, similar to the ones associated with the
temporal lobe within the healthy population as described by Persinger, to
be associated with the angular gyrus at the TPJ within the pathological
4. OBE studies within the pathological population
From the literature available on OBEs it seems that the majority of
OBE studies implicate the right TPJ as opposed to the left TPJ in OBEs
of pathological individuals. One of the rst studies of the phenomenon of
OBEs in the clinical population conducted in 1941 revealed a connection
between anomalous perception, such as out-of-body experiences, and
disturbances in the temporal lobe (Peneld, 1941 as cited in Tong, 2003).
The study showed that upon electrical stimulation of the right superior
temporal gyrus in an epileptic patient, the patient would perceive a strange
sensation of oating.
A Brief Review of Studies of Out-of-Body Experiences in both the Healthy and Pathological Populations
The commentary of Nakel and Lopez (2017) on the nature of the OBEs
elicited during awake craniotomy claims that only five cases of OBEs,
occurring after brain stimulation, have been published to date. They include
cases of craniotomy, electrocorticography (electrodes placed directly on
the exposed surface of the brain ), and one case with chronically implanted
A study conducted by De Ridder et al. (2007) showed that electrical
stimulation of the right superior temporal gyrus, in a patient suffering
from tinnitus, would produce an OBE. More specifically, increased
brain activation was detected at the right angular–supramarginal gyrus
junction and the superior temporal gyrus. The results are similar to
the study conducted by Messier and Smith (2014), which described an
experiencer, who would induce OBEs, repeatedly and at will. Similar to
De Ridder’s study, the brain scans of Messier’s subject showed activation
in the supramarginal and posterior superior temporal gyri. However, the
activation happened on the left side as opposed to the right side implicated
in De Ridder’s study. Moreover, Messier’s subject belonged to the healthy
population, as opposed to the clinical patient in De Ridder’s study. Based
on the two studies we can conclude that electrical stimulation followed
by activation within the angular and supramarginal giri is implicated in
vestibular, as well as somatosensory, challenges which probably give rise
to both OBEs as well as out-of-body-like experiences. This hypothesis
seems to be in line with the study conducted by Blanke et al. (2002). He
reported the induction of what we suggest be classied as an out-of-body
like experience, as oppose to an out-of-body experience, in the pathological
population; namely, an epileptic patient who experienced out-of-body-like
experiences elicited by electrical stimulation of the right angular gyrus.
Specically, the study reported the onset of vestibular challenges such as
feelings of floating or sinking, including an out-of-body-like experience
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after the patient’s angular gyrus in his TPJ was electrically stimulated on
the right side of the brain.
It is interesting that the same stimulation of the right temporal lobe
where the epilepsy was located would not produce neither an OBE nor an
out-of -body like experience. Also intriguing was that the elicited of out-of-
body like experiences did not occur during the patient’s epileptic attacks.
Rather, they only occurred after the right angular gyrus of the patient was
electrically stimulated.
While the oating sensation of the epileptic patient in Blanke’s study did
not last long, and was apparently triggered by electrical stimulation of the
TPJ region on the right side of the brain, it remains elusive what triggers
spontaneous OBEs, or OBEs that are triggered at will, as well as sensations
of a clear separation from the physical body produced by spontaneous
OBEs in some healthy individuals (which are denitely not caused by any
outside inuence such as drugs, alcohol, hypnosis, trance, or other articial
stimulation (Sellers, 2017).
A research study conducted by Blanke and Mohr (2005) implicated the
right TPJ in elicitation of OBEs. The results of the study suggest that the
TPJ is a crucial structure for the conscious experience of the normal self,
mediating spatial unity of self and body. Furthermore, the study suggests
that impaired processing at the TPJ may lead to experiencing pathological
self-consciousness, such as OBE. Fang and Yan (2014), in a study on the
spontaneous OBEs in an epileptic 15-year-old child, also strongly suggested
implication of the right TPJ region in OBEs. The study hypothesized that
the TPJ region is vital to the etiology of OBEs. Subdural electrodes were
placed in the right frontal lobe of the patient and an intracranial EEG was
monitored during seizures. The results of the monitoring showed that when
A Brief Review of Studies of Out-of-Body Experiences in both the Healthy and Pathological Populations
the patient underwent episodes of OBEs, the EEG revealed sharp waves in
the form of spikes, originating from the right TPJ region.
Another research study, by Blanke et al. (2005), linking OBEs and own
body imagery at the TPJ, described an interesting OBE in an epileptic
patient. The subject was a female suffering from epileptic seizures
accompanied, among others, by fear based feelings, auditory aura, and
impaired consciousness. The seizure that was accompanied by the OBE
was identified with the right angular and the posterior superior temporal
gyri. It is intriguing that the posterior superior temporal gyrus, but on
the left side, was identied within an OBE episode of a healthy research
subject, who was able to induce her OBEs by will (Messier and Smith,
2014). During one of the patient’s seizures, which was accompanied by an
OBE, she experienced a feeling of being located on the ceiling, floating
above, seeing her own body as well as bed in the room from an elevated
position. After the OBE episode subsided, the patient reported increased
word-nding difculties. This seems to be in line with Sellers’ study (2017)
which reported auditory auras as well as challenges in spoken language
during, and after, the OBE episodes of a frequent out-of-body experiencer,
who is a healthy individual. Moreover, the features of his spontaneous
OBEs were similar to those of the OBE episode described by the patient.
Both experienced a oating sensation, the elevated visuospatial perspective
of seeing the physical body, a clear awareness of the ability to observe
their surroundings from the ceiling, and the ability to see their physical
body laying on the bed in the room (Blanke et al., 2005; Sellers, 2017).
Furthermore, Sellers’ case report of spontaneous OBEs in the healthy
individual revealed that the subject experienced many similar, if not
identical, OBE elements as those described in the studies of both the healthy
as well as the clinical population mentioned in this paper (2017), including,
but not limited to, brief states of vertigo, the sensation of falling into an
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abyss, subtle sensations of oating, watching own body from an elevated
position (usually from the ceiling or side walls in an enclosed space such
as a room), the presence of different sound effects, a sensed presence,
distortion in time ow, and vestibular challenges.
5. Conclusion
The majority of current OBE studies examine elicited OBEs in the
pathological population rather than the healthy population, and OBEs which
are induced articially rather than at will or occurring spontaneously in the
waking/active state. This study presented a brief overview of OBE studies
both in the healthy, as well as the pathological populations. The explanation
for the OBE accounts in the healthy population, where no pathological
dysfunction was established, has not been sufficiently scientifically
explained as of yet.
Based on my first-hand spontaneous OBEs, as well as the spontaneous
OBEs of a healthy individual I have had a chance to observe for over 20
years, it is clear that OBEs involve different modes, are accompanied by
different phenomenological and semiological elements, and have distinct
features depending on the psychological, physiological, as well as neural
mechanisms that are not well understood. Therefore, more research aimed
at the explanation of qualitative differences within OBEs in healthy
individuals should be conducted in the future.
The phenomenology as well as semiology of OBEs in the healthy
population suggests that there are multiple diverse factors contributing to
anomalous cognition and perceptual experience. The mechanism based
on neural network processing, by which this kind of abnormal perception
is experienced, would still need to be identified. Some of the elements
A Brief Review of Studies of Out-of-Body Experiences in both the Healthy and Pathological Populations
of spontaneous OBEs that we have studied indicate that visuo-vestibular
processes might play an important role (Sellers, 2017). Furthermore, we
speculate that spontaneous OBEs with no sign of inducement (made
willingly or unwillingly) occurring in a healthy individual might be caused
by intrinsic vibrational- oscillatory dynamics taking the form of pulses of
a discontinuous and, as of yet, unidentified nature. We further posit that
the pulses are based on the resonance produced and driven by feelings and
emotions residing at the cellular level. The pulses might induce paroxysmal
discharges which, in turn, induce an OBE. We further speculate that the role
of synapses and synaptic ring might be pivotal in eliciting OBEs.
As stated earlier, contemporary research focuses mainly on OBE
phenomena occurring in the clinical population. It would be interesting to
do research on healthy individuals who claim to be experiencing OBEs on
a regular basis, spontaneously or at will, versus individuals who represent
the healthy population and have only experienced an OBE once in their life.
Even more intriguing would be an in-depth comparison of OBEs reported
in the healthy population versus OBEs elicited by epilepsy, or other
pathological cases, in the clinical population.
To conclude, many questions pertaining to the real nature of the OBE
phenomenon still remain unanswered as of today. We hope that further
philosophical, psychological, as well as physiological research would be
able to elucidate answers to some of the following questions: Is there a
clear cut denition of an OBE? What is an OBE based on? Does a typical
description of an OBE exist? What type of anomalous cognition should
science include in the wide range of OBE phenomena? How do we dene
an OBE state from the neurological point of view? Is an OBE part of a
dream or vice versa? What constitutes the projection of consciousness
both conscious and unconscious? Is it identical to an OBE or a waking
Julia Sellers
dream? What is the difference between an OBE under full consciousness
and an OBE while asleep? How do we define the phenomena of lucid
dreaming, astral projection, microsleep, the sensed presence, heautoscopy
proper, autoscopic hallucinations, REM intrusions such as hypnagogia or
hypnopompia or false awakening, the Doppelgänger effect, OBEs induced
by drugs, OBEs induced by trance, or other types of near OBEs such as
body parts distortions created under a virtual reality setting. What are
the neural correlates of OBEs under different circumstances such as in a
light coma, deep unconsciousness, or undergoing cardiac arrest? What is
the connection between an expanded or altered consciousness induced by
ayahuasca or a deep meditation and an OBE? And finally, how does an
OBE differ from a near-death-experience? It is worth noting that Alvarado
(2000) and Nahm (2015) suggested to develop an "OBEs scale" similar
to the "NDE scale" developed by Bruce Greyson to properly address and
investigate the phenomenology of OBEs. Answering the above questions
might provide clues about the true nature of conscious experiences.
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Full-text available
ABSTRACT Out-of-body experiences in people with pathological conditions such as epilepsy have been studied by a fair amount of researchers to date. However, there is a severe lack of studies aimed at researching out-of-body experiences occurring in the non-pathological population. In article, I provide a review of the relevant literature and present a case of anomalous perception, in the form of autoscopic phenomena, of a healthy individual who reports experiencing massive out-of-body experiences, spontaneously or at will, on a daily basis, since birth.
Full-text available
This is the full text of my original book on out-of-body experiences, "Beyond the body" published in 1982. Please note that my new book on out-of-body experiences "Seeing Myself: The new science of out-of-body experiences", published in 2017 is also now available, with all the recent research and theories. See more here
Full-text available
The present single-case study examined functional brain imaging patterns in a participant that reported being able, at will, to produce somatosensory sensations that are experienced as her body moving outside the boundaries of her physical body all the while remaining aware of her unmoving physical body. We found that the brain functional changes associ-ated with the reported extra-corporeal experience (ECE) were different than those observed in motor imagery. Activations were mainly left-sided and involved the left supplementary motor area and supramarginal and posterior superior temporal gyri, the last two overlapping with the temporal parietal junction that has been associated with out-of-body experiences. The cerebellum also showed activation that is consistent with the participant's report of the impression of movement during the ECE. There was also left middle and superior orbital frontal gyri activity, regions often associated with action monitoring. The results suggest that the ECE reported here represents an unusual type of kinesthetic imagery.
Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence. Etzel Cardeña. Steven Jay Lynn. and Stanley Krippner (Eds.). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2000. 476 pp., $39.95 (cloth).
The authors describe the case of a spontaneous out-of-body experience (OBE) in a 15-year-old right-handed boy with intractable epilepsy in whom psychosis had been misdiagnosed. After successful resection of a right temporoparietal focal cortical dysplasia, the OBE and seizures resolved. The authors analyzed the underlying causes of the OBE and discussed the mechanism of the OBE caused by an epileptic lesion.