Scientists Scanned Woman’s Brain During ‘Out-of-Body Experience’ and This Is What They Found
Mar. 7, 2014 11:00pm Liz Klimas
Wait, you mean not everyone has out-of-body experiences at their own will?
It was apparently a surprise for a University of Ottawa graduate student studying psychology that it was unusual for her to be able to will herself out of her body, as she claims she can do.
Scientists monitored activity in the woman's brain using functional MRI while she willed herself out of her body. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)
According to a case study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the woman not only described what this was like but researchers studied her brain while she had an “extra-corporeal experience.”
The 24-year-old was an undergraduate when she learned that having an out-of-body experience was not necessarily the norm.“She appeared surprised that not everyone could experience this,” the study authors wrote.
She first remembers willing herself out of her body when she was in preschool, using it as a “distraction during the time kids were asked to nap.” As she grew up, she assumed “everyone could do it.”
When in such a state she said she could see herself in the air above her body. She could watch herself move but was aware that her “real” body was not moving.
“I feel myself moving, or, more accurately, can make myself feel as if I am moving. I know perfectly well that I am not actually moving,” she told the researchers. “There is no duality of body and mind when this happens, not really. In fact, I am hyper-sensitive to my body at that point, because I am concentrating so hard on the sensation of moving. I am the one moving – me – my body. For example, if I ‘spin’ for long enough, I get dizzy. I do not see myself above my body. Rather, my whole body has moved up. I feel it as being above where I know it actually is. I usually also picture myself as moving up in my mind’s eye, but the mind is not substantive. It does not move unless the body does.”
In the case study, researchers conducted tests that included MRI analysis and questionnaires. What they found was that the brain during such “extra-corporeal experiences” exhibited activation in areas that are consistent with other studies about out-of-body experiences, which neurologists had associated with hallucinations.
These images show activated areas of the brain while the woman was supposedly having an out-of-body experience. (Image source: Andra M. Smith and Claude Messier/University of Ottawa/Frontiers in Human Neuroscience)
Here are a couple bullets of some of the specific observations made of her brain:
The results suggest that the ECE reported here represents an unusual type of kinesthetic imagery that shares some features of previously described out-of-body experiences and some features of more typical motor imagery.
The cerebellum also shows strong activation that is consistent with the participant’s report of the impression of movement during the ECE. There are also left middle and superior orbital frontal gyri activations, structures often associated with action monitoring.
The researchers called the woman’s experience “a novel one,” as she was healthy, young and didn’t have any brain abnormalities.
They acknowledged that there are limitations to the study in that it only relies on one woman’s account. However, they wrote that due to her level of detail and unusual descriptions, “we are inclined to take her report at face value.”
Overall, the authors believe this woman’s experience could mean that others have such an ability to will themselves out of their bodies as well, but, perhaps like this woman, they don’t report it because they think it is normal and widely experienced. The researchers also wondered whether if it is an ability held by infants and children that is lost and forgotten without practice.