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

July 11, 2011

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

Recommended for you

The amazing axon adventure

February 5, 2016

How does the brain make connections, and how does it maintain them? Cambridge neuroscientists and mathematicians are using a variety of techniques to understand how the brain 'wires up', and what it might be able to tell ...

Modelling how the brain makes complex decisions

February 4, 2016

Researchers have constructed the first comprehensive model of how neurons in the brain behave when faced with a complex decision-making process, and how they adapt and learn from mistakes.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.