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Lecture 7: The Psychology of Alien Contact and Abduction Claims

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1 Lecture 7: The Psychology of Alien Contact and Abduction Claims
Topics Covered: 1. Introduction 2. Psychological approaches to alien contact and abduction claims 3. Related anomalous memory effects 4. Conclusion

2 UFOs: The Modern Era 1947: Kenneth Arnold’s sighting 1952:
Major wave of sightings Project Bluebook First report of human-ET contact (Adamski) 1957: First abduction claim (Boas) 1961: Hills’ classic abduction claim

3 Types of Close Encounter (CE)
Astronomer J Allen Hynek, astronomer (sceptic turned believer), proposed the following classification: CE1: Sightings CE2: Physical evidence (photographs, marks on the ground, radar, etc.) CE3: Human-ET contact CE4 added: Abduction

4 Close Encounters of the First Kind
UFO = Unidentified Flying Object ET = Extraterrestrial UFO does not equal ET 95% of sightings have prosaic explanations Celestial objects, e.g., Venus Aeroplanes Satellites

5 UFO sighting, Ohio, 1966 “if two police cars really were chasing a large UFO only hundreds of feet above the road, one might reasonably expect that other independent witnesses would have seen the same object. In fact, the chase was twice slowed by early morning traffic. Yet none of the hundreds of people who saw the speeding police cars reported seeing the UFO they were chasing.” (p. 177).

6 Close Encounters of the Second Kind
Physical evidence in addition to sighting Photographs Other objects seen from unusual angles Blemishes produced during processing Artefacts of digital photography, cf. “orbs” Deliberate hoaxes “Landing marks” Radar

7 Close Encounters of the Third Kind
George Adamski claimed to have met a visitor from Venus in the Californian desert in 1952 Claimed he was taken for a ride in her spaceship Wrote bestsellers about his adventures

8 Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind
Antonio Villas Boas claimed he was abducted by aliens in 1957 in Brazil Taken on board spaceship Seduced by female alien – who made “barking” noises during sex!

9 Betty and Barney Hill, 1961 Driving from Montreal to New Hampshire in September 1961 Saw a UFO Barney got out of the car to investigate Saw alien faces through the windows of the UFO Got scared and drove home Arrived home two hours later than expected – “missing time” Betty began having dreams of being taken on board the spaceship

10 Years later… Hills consulted a psychiatrist, Dr Benjamin Simon, with respect to marital problems Under hypnosis, relived full abduction experience Car had been stopped by aliens Taken on board spaceship, medically examined Betty shown “star map” of trade routes

11 The Hills’ “Abduction”: 1
the "UFO" was in fact the planet Jupiter the "missing time" was reported inconsistently, was not noticed until weeks later (after questioning by UFOlogists) and, besides, the Hills had taken a tortuous route

12 The Hills’ Abduction: 2 hypnosis is not a reliable means for recovering memories (the psychiatrist who carried out the hypnosis in this case did not believe the accounts produced) the star map does not actually bear any close resemblance to any particular group of stars

13 Whitley Strieber Two best-selling books published in 1987 led to further interest in alien abductions – and an increase in the number of claims Whitley Strieber’s Communion was the “true” story of the author’s own experiences Strieber was a successful writer of horror stories with a vivid imagination Philip Klass (1988) presented critique, pointing out that Strieber claimed to have had many unusual experiences attacked by skeleton on a motorbike when he was 12 claimed to have been present during sniper attack – later admitted he had just made it up

14 Budd Hopkins New York artist, published Intruders also in 1987
Claimed alien abduction much more common than realised Involved sexual abuse as part of cross-breeding project Places great emphasis upon “missing time” and uses hypnosis to “retrieve” memories

15 Blackmore’s (1994) Composite Abduction Scenario (1)
I woke up in the middle of the night and everything looked odd and strangely lit. At the end of my bed was a 4 feet high grey alien. Its spindly, thin body supported a huge head with two enormous, slanted, liquid black eyes. It compelled me, telepathically, to follow and led me into a spaceship, along curved corridors to an examination room full of tables on which people lay.

16 Blackmore’s (1994) Composite Abduction Scenario (2)
I was forced to lie down while they painfully examined me, extracted ova (or sperm) and implanted something in my nose. I could see jars containing half-human, half-alien fetuses and a nursery full of silent, sickly children. When I eventually found myself back in bed, several hours had gone by.

17 Common Themes Mostly “greys” these days Tours of the aliens’ ship
Trips to other planets Receipt of messages to humanity, often involving warnings of future destruction through pollution or nuclear war Abduction scenario is part of our culture

18 Incidence Strieber (1998) claimed to have received almost a quarter of a million letters from individuals claiming alien contact It is often claimed that many more people have experienced alien abduction than actually report it because people know that they will be ridiculed if they tell others of their bizarre experience it is claimed that the aliens are able to erase the memories of the abductees for the experience

19 The Roper Poll (N = 6000) Hopkins, Jacobs & Westrum, 1992
Waking up paralysed with a sense of a strange person or presence or something else in the room. [18%] Experiencing a period of time of an hour or more in which you were apparently lost, but you could not remember why or where you had been. [13%] Feeling that you were actually flying through the air although you didn’t know how or why. [10%]

20 The Roper Poll (cont.) Seeing unusual lights or balls of light in a room without knowing what was causing them or where they came from. [8%] Finding puzzling scars on your body and neither you nor anyone else remembering how you received them or where you got them. [8%]

21 Interpretation of Roper Poll
Hopkins et al. (1992) claimed that if you said “yes” to four or more of these items, you had probably been abducted by aliens 2% of their sample Extrapolated to 3.7 million Americans! 340 every day since 1961 (Klass, 1997)?! Actual number of people with abduction memories far less than that – but still thousands of people worldwide

22 Are Claimants Lying? Motivations
Financial? Social? Occasional hoaxes (e.g., Travis Walton) but most claimants appear to be sincere and avoid any kind of publicity

23 Evidence for ET Hypothesis
Missing Embryo/Foetus Syndrome no convincing documented cases Alien implants mundane explanation “disappear” before scientific analysis

24 Psychopathology? (1) Major psychopathology is no more common amongst abductees than the general population Bartholomew, Basterfield, & Howard, 1991 Bloecher, Clamar, & Hopkins, 1985 Mack, 1994 Parnell & Sprinkle, 1990 Rodeghier et al., 1991 Spanos, Cross, Dickson, & DuBreuil, 1993

25 Psychopathology? (2) Parnell and Sprinkle (1990): those who claimed to have communicated with aliens “had a significantly greater tendency to endorse unusual feelings, thoughts, and attitudes; to be suspicious or distrustful; and to be creative, imaginative, or possibly have schizoid tendencies”

26 Psychopathology? (3) Rodeghier et al. (1991): relatively higher levels of loneliness, unhappiness, and poorer sleep patterns. Mack (1994) and Ring & Rosing (1990): high levels of childhood trauma.

27 Psychopathology? (4) Ring & Rosing (1990): also reported that, as children, abductees were more sensitive to “non-ordinary realities”. Stone-Carmen (1994) found that 57% of her sample of abductees reported suicide attempts.

28 The Fantasy-Prone Personality (Wilson & Barber, 1983)
Fantasy-prone personalities are typically excellent hypnotic subjects, but are also noted for their profound fantasy lives. They spend a great deal of their time fantasising and report that when they imagine something, it appears to them “as real as real”.

29 The Fantasy-Prone Personality (cont.)
The hallucinatory nature of their fantasies leads to frequent confusions between imagination and reality. In line with typical abductees, these individuals often report paranormal experiences of various types and often believe themselves to be psychic.

30 Are Abductees Fantasy-Prone? (1)
Biographical analyses tend to support the link (e.g., Bartholomew et al., 1991; Nickell, 1997). Characteristics noted include reports of psychic phenomena, out-of-body experiences, healing, apparitions, hypnotic susceptibility, and physiological effects. BUT ...

31 Are Abductees Fantasy-Prone? (2)
Studies comparing groups directly with questionnaire measures have typically not found differences (e.g., Rodeghier et al., 1991; Spanos et al., 1993) except for French et al. (2008) Ring & Rosing (1990) reported that UFO experiencers were not generally more fantasy-prone, but as children were more sensitive to “non-ordinary realities” (?)

32 Dissociation Dissociative tendencies (i.e., the tendency for some mental processes to temporarily “split off” from the normal stream of consciousness) have been shown to be higher in those claiming alien contact than in control groups (e.g., Powers, 1994; French et al., 2008).

33 Dissociation and Childhood Trauma
Tendency to dissociate is associated with histories of childhood trauma which in turn are correlated with fantasy proneness It has been argued that the tendency to dissociate is a defensive mechanism which allows traumatised children to escape the unbearable reality of their lives by entering a more acceptable fantasy world.

34 Fantasy-Proneness, Childhood Trauma & the Paranormal
Possible explanations: fantasy-prone individuals have appropriate psychological profile to experience genuine paranormal events OR fantasy-prone individuals imagine paranormal events but think they are real with fantasy-proneness developing as defence mechanism as previously described OR reports of childhood trauma are themselves fantasies

35 Hypnotic Regression Used by many investigators (e.g., Hopkins, Mack) to “unlock” repressed memories of abduction, but ... … it actually encourages the production of fantasy-based narratives which are then believed in as if they were memories for events which actually occurred.

36 Spanos et al. (1994) People who believe that they might have been abducted by aliens but cannot remember, or who dream of aliens or experience gaps in memory that they are unable to explain, sometimes undergo hypnotic (or non-hypnotic) interviews aimed at uncovering “hidden memories” of their alien abduction (Jacobs, 1992; Klass, 1989). Frequently, the interviews include two phases.

37 Spanos et al. (1994) cont. In the first phase background information is obtained and clients are asked about unusual or inexplicable experiences that have occurred during their life. These include “missing time” experiences, unusual or bizarre dreams, and experiences that suggest hypnagogic imagery or sleep paralysis (e.g., having seen a ghost, strange lights, or a monster).

38 Spanos et al. (1994) cont. Such experiences are defined as distorted memories of alien abduction that call for further probing (Jacobs & Hopkins, 1992). Moreover, making such experiences salient enhances the likelihood that some of their characteristics (e.g., paralysis, feelings of suffocation) will be incorporated into any abduction memories that are recalled in Phase 2. Phase 2 typically involves hypnotic or non-hypnotic guided imagery employed to facilitate recall.

39 Spanos et al. (1994) cont. This may involve leading questions (Baker, 1992), or the subject may be pressed repeatedly for more details (Jacobs, 1992). In addition, subjects may be informed that some material is so deeply hidden that several such interviews are required. Subjects who have difficulty “remembering” some or all of their abduction are defined as “blocking” and are provided with strategies for facilitating recall. These include asking subjects to imagine a curtain and then to peek behind it to view their abduction, or to imagine a movie screen on which they see their abduction replayed (Jacobs & Hopkins, 1992).

40 Lawson’s (1984) “Imaginary Abductees”
They “readily respond[ed] to an initial suggestion with an elaborate and detailed story, with little need for prodding along the way, […] the contents bore striking similarities to alleged real abductions, both in more obvious matters and in odd, minute details” (Bullard, 1989)

41 Susceptibility to False Memories
Clancy, McNally, Schacter, Lenzenweger, and Pitman (2002) used DRM to compare three groups: those with conscious memories of alien abduction those who believed themselves to have been abducted but had no memories of it those who did not claim to have been abducted Abductees most susceptible to false memories

42 The Bial “Experiencer” Project
French, Santomauro, Hamilton, Fox, & Thalbourne (2008) Experiencers scored higher than matched controls on dissociativity, absorption, fantasy proneness and measures of paranormal belief and experience No significant differences on direct measure of susceptibility to false memories (DRM task) Experiencers also reported higher incidence of sleep paralysis

43 Sleep Paralysis Waking up unable to move, often accompanied by …
a terrifying sense of a malign presence hypnagogic/hypnopompic imagery auditory/visual hallucinations (lights, strange figures) pressure on the chest floating sensations

44 Cheyne, Rueffer, & Newby-Clark, 1999 (1)
“One factor, labeled Intruder, consisting of sensed presence, fear, and auditory and visual hallucinations, is conjectured to originate in a hypervigilant state initiated in the midbrain. Another factor, Incubus, comprising pressure on the chest, breathing difficulties, and pain, is attributed to effects of hyperpolarization of motoneurons on perceptions of respiration.”

45 Cheyne, Rueffer, & Newby-Clark, 1999 (2)
“These two factors have in common an implied alien ‘other’ consistent with occult narratives identified in numerous contemporary and historical cultures. A third factor, labeled Unusual Bodily Experiences, consisting of floating/flying sensations, out-of-body experiences, and feelings of bliss, is related to physically impossible experiences generated by conflicts of endogenous and exogenous activation related to body position, orientation, and movement”.

46 Cross-Cultural Interpretations of ASP
Newfoundland – the “Old Hag” Japan – “kanashibari” St Lucia – “kokma” Europe in the Middle Ages – incubus and succubus

47 Temporal Lobe Activity and Tectonic Strain Theory (1)
Michael Persinger (e.g., 1990) believes that many ostensibly paranormal experiences reflect unusual activity in the temporal lobes Temporal lobe epilepsy is associated with odd sensations, déjà vu, hallucinations, out-of-body experiences.

48 Temporal Lobe Activity and Tectonic Strain Theory (2)
Persinger claims he can artificially induce similar firing patterns in the temporal lobes leading to reports of unusual sensations (e.g., Blackmore, 1994) and even the subjective appearance of apparitions (Persinger, Tiller, & Koren, 2000). But Granqvist et al. (2005) failed to replicate such effects and claimed that Persinger’s results were best explained in terms of suggestibility of participants and poor double-blind procedures (Persinger rejected this)

49 Temporal Lobe Activity and Tectonic Strain Theory (3)
There is evidence to suggest that reputedly “haunted” locations are associated with unusual patterns of electromagnetic activity (see French, Haque, Bunton-Stasyshyn, & Davis, in press, Cortex, for review) but results inconsistent

50 Temporal Lobe Activity and Tectonic Strain Theory (4)
79 volunteers exposed to unusual EMFs, infrasound, both or neither for 50 mins Unusual sensations and experiences recorded Many participants reported unusual sensations (e.g., sense of presence, terror, etc) but… … unrelated to condition! Was related to score on TLS scale – which correlates with suggestibility

51 Temporal Lobe Activity and Tectonic Strain Theory (5)
Persinger (1990) claims that in susceptible individuals, temporal lobe overactivity can result from magnetic effects produced as a result of the movement of tectonic plates in the earth's crust. Such electromagnetic activity may also give rise to strange luminous effects.

52 Content of Alien Abduction Narratives
Birth memories? (Lawson, 1984) Sado-masochistic fantasies? (Newman & Baumeister, 1996, 1998) Ambivalence towards modern technology? (Matheson, 1998)

53 Hypnotic Past-life Regression (1)
In 1952 one Virginia Tighe was hypnotized. She reported details of a previous life in Cork, Ireland, as “Bridey Murphy.” While hypnotized, she spoke in a distinct Irish accent that she did not have normally and described her life in Cork in great detail. Her case was reported as proof of reincarnation in Bernstein’s (1956) best-selling book, The Search for Bridey Murphy.

54 Hypnotic Past-life Regression (2)
The case was thoroughly investigated several years later. It was discovered that, as a child, Mrs. Tighe had had a neighbor across the street who had grown up in Ireland and used to tell her stories about life there. The woman’s maiden name? You guessed it – Bridey Murphy. Further, it was revealed that Mrs. Tighe had been involved in theater in high school and had “learned several Irish monologues, which she had delivered in what her former teacher referred to as a heavy Irish brogue” ...

55 The Bloxham Tapes Arnall Bloxham, Cardiff-based hypnotherapist
Recorded past-life regression sessions Featured in BBC documentary and book by Jeffery Iverson (1977) Jane Evans, Welsh housewife, six previous incarnations, e.g.: Maid in house of 15th century French nobleman, Jacques Couer Life in Roman Britain

56 Explanation of the Bloxham Tapes
Melvin Harris Evans claimed Couer was single but the historical record showed he was married with children But in historical novel, The Moneyman, author Thomas B. Costain had taken the literary liberty of making him single Roman Briton incarnation based on novel The Living Wood, as fictional characters appear in Evans’ account Crytomnesia

57 Spanos et al. (e.g., 1994) Fantasy prone personality is particularly likely to report detailed accounts of past lives Narratives based upon imagination, fantasy, expectation and knowledge (often “Hollywood” version) Rarely able to answer questions that someone living in that time would be able to answer (e.g., What is your currency? Who is your ruler? Is your country at war?)

58 Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)
Formerly Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) Cf. past-life regression Apparently different personas who may or may not be aware of each other Usually only emerges in therapy following leading hypnotic interviews Often claimed to be the result of Satanic ritualised abuse (SRA)

59 Satanic Ritualised Abuse
No forensic evidence supports claims of widespread and powerful networks engaged in SRA Claims pushed strongly by the Evangelical Christian movement in USA Michelle Remembers, Smith & Pazder (1980)

60 Iatrogenic Origins of DID
The majority of therapists report never having come across such patients, a small minority report a large number of cases The percentage of DID cases reporting ritualised abuse rose from 25% in the mid-1980s to as high as 80% in some centres by 1992 Such cases are still relatively rare in the UK compared to a much higher reported incidence in the US

61 Spanos et al. (1994) Frequently, satanic abuse memories are elicited during hypnotic interviews that explicitly suggest such abuse. In such cases it is common for the therapist to explicitly describe satanic rituals and possibly to show the patient pictures of satanic symbols or photographs of possible cult leaders. The therapist then addresses the patient's alters and asks if any of them recognize the material or remember similar experiences (Mulhern, 1991a).

62 Conclusion (1) No convincing evidence that people really are being abducted by aliens. People are generally sincere in making such claims. The claims are probably due to false memories, often as a result of hypnotic regression or similar techniques.

63 Conclusion (2) Shared cultural knowledge and individual anomalous experiences such as sleep paralysis appear to be important contributory factors. Fantasy-proneness and unusual activity in the temporal lobes may also be implicated, but further research is needed.

64 Conclusion (3) Similar “memory retrieval” techniques are used to “retrieve” memories of childhood sexual abuse, ritualised satanic abuse, alien abduction episodes and past lives The accumulated evidence strongly suggests that all such apparent memories are false memories

65 Acknowledgement With thanks to Hilary Evans, proprietor of the Mary Evans Picture Library, for permission to use illustrations featured in this presentation. These illustrations must not be reproduced in any form without permission from the Mary Evans Picture Library.

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