Out-of-body experiences linked to neural instability and biases in body representation

Although out-of-body experiences (OBEs) are typically associated with migraine, epilepsy and psychopathology, they are quite common in healthy and psychologically normal individuals as well. However, they are poorly understood. A new study, published in the July 2011 issue of Elsevier's Cortex, has linked these experiences to neural instabilities in the brain's temporal lobes and to errors in the body's sense of itself – even in non clinical populations.

Dr Jason Braithwaite from the Behavioural Brain Sciences Centre, School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, has been investigating the underlying factors associated with the propensity for normal healthy individuals to have an OBE. As well as informing the scientific theories for how such hallucinations can occur, studying these unusual phenomena can also help us to understand how normal "in-the-body" mental processes work and why, when they break down, they produce such striking experiences.

Dr Braithwaite tested a group of individuals, including some "OBEers", for their predisposition to unusual perceptual experiences, and found that the OBEers reported significantly more of a particular type of experience: those known to be associated with neuroelectrical anomalies in the temporal lobes of the brain, as well as those associated with distortions in the processing of body-based information. The OBEers were also less skilled at a task which required them to adopt the perspective of a figure shown on the computer screen. These findings suggest that, even in healthy people, striking hallucinations can and do occur and that these may reflect anomalies in neuroelectrical activity of the , as well as biases in "body representation" in the brain.

More information: www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00109452

Related Stories

Hallucinations in the flash of an eye

Sep 04, 2008

Dominic H. ffytche at the Institute of Psychiatry in London reviews what we do know and moves the field forward, by introducing a new experimental approach to studying hallucinations as they occur.

Dementia takes away the meaning of flavors

May 10, 2010

Flavour is literally the spice of life and for many people life without the pleasures of the table would be unthinkable. Yet just this aspect of everyday life is vulnerable in certain degenerative dementias, with patients ...

An underlying cause for psychopathic behavior?

Apr 27, 2010

Psychopaths are known to be characterized by callousness, diminished capacity for remorse, and lack of empathy. However, the exact cause of these personality traits is an area of scientific debate. The results of a new study, ...

Recommended for you

New ALS associated gene identified using innovative strategy

Oct 22, 2014

Using an innovative exome sequencing strategy, a team of international scientists led by John Landers, PhD, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School has shown that TUBA4A, the gene encoding the Tubulin Alpha 4A protein, ...

Can bariatric surgery lead to severe headache?

Oct 22, 2014

Bariatric surgery may be a risk factor for a condition that causes severe headaches, according to a study published in the October 22, 2014, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurol ...

Bipolar disorder discovery at the nano level

Oct 22, 2014

A nano-sized discovery by Northwestern Medicine scientists helps explain how bipolar disorder affects the brain and could one day lead to new drug therapies to treat the mental illness.

User comments