The 'out of body experience' being investigated by psychologists

Researchers are aiming to explore the specific characteristics of the 'out-of-body experience' – the phenomena in which someone has the temporary sensation of becoming separated from their physical body.

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People who have an out of body experience often perceive a floating sensation

Researchers are aiming to explore the specific characteristics of the 'out-of-body experience' – the phenomena in which someone has the temporary sensation of becoming separated from their physical body.

Psychologists at Nottingham Trent University are carrying out an in-depth study of the phenomenological features of the out-of-body experience (OBE) so they can distinguish between people who have had one, and those who have had similar hallucinatory experiences.

People who have an OBE typically report it as being like a lucid dream, often with a sensation of floating, looking down on one's physical body, or a feeling of travelling to other locations or distant places.

It's clear that more work is still needed if we are to better understand what the OBE is and how it affects different people

David Wilde, Nottingham Trent University

The new study is being funded by the Bial Foundation in Portugal and will involve in-depth interviews with people who claim to have had OBEs, along with a detailed analysis of previous OBE case reports.

This ground work will then be used to develop a screening tool to enable researchers to discriminate between those who have had OBEs and those who have not. The team hopes to be able to identify different types of OBEs, based on factors such as different triggers and the circumstances under which they occur.

"It's all about widening psychological knowledge in this underexplored area," said David Wilde, a researcher in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Social Sciences.

He said: "When we use surveys to study the out-of-body experience we usually give a brief definition of it and ask people to say if they have had one or not. However, there are other similar hallucinatory experiences that could be mistaken for an out-of-body experience, so by using only one question to screen for the experience there is some room for error when interpreting the results of important studies.

"The features that characterise the out-of-body experience are also quite rich and varied, but have been typically ignored in modern research in favour of a slimmed down set of 'core' characteristics. Previous research has shown that certain OBE features can hold a lot of significance for a person and this can affect how they understand and interpret their OBE.

"With this study, we want to be able to more precisely explore what an out-of-body experience is, and whether somebody has really had one. This fascinating experience has been of interest to psychiatry and psychology for more than 100 years, but it's clear that more work is still needed if we are to better understand what the OBE is and how it affects different people."

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The 'out of body experience' being investigated by psychologists

Published on 24 July 2014
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Social Sciences

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