Presentation on theme: "Lecture 7: The Psychology of Alien Contact and Abduction Claims"— Presentation transcript:
1Lecture 7: The Psychology of Alien Contact and Abduction Claims Topics Covered:1. Introduction2. Psychological approaches to alien contact and abduction claims3. Related anomalous memory effects4. Conclusion
2UFOs: The Modern Era 1947: Kenneth Arnold’s sighting 1952: Major wave of sightingsProject BluebookFirst report of human-ET contact (Adamski)1957: First abduction claim (Boas)1961: Hills’ classic abduction claim
3Types of Close Encounter (CE) Astronomer J Allen Hynek, astronomer (sceptic turned believer), proposed the following classification:CE1: SightingsCE2: Physical evidence (photographs, marks on the ground, radar, etc.)CE3: Human-ET contactCE4 added: Abduction
4Close Encounters of the First Kind UFO = Unidentified Flying ObjectET = ExtraterrestrialUFO does not equal ET95% of sightings have prosaic explanationsCelestial objects, e.g., VenusAeroplanesSatellites
5UFO 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).
6Close Encounters of the Second Kind Physical evidence in addition to sightingPhotographsOther objects seen from unusual anglesBlemishes produced during processingArtefacts of digital photography, cf. “orbs”Deliberate hoaxes“Landing marks”Radar
7Close Encounters of the Third Kind George Adamski claimed to have met a visitor from Venus in the Californian desert in 1952Claimed he was taken for a ride in her spaceshipWrote bestsellers about his adventures
8Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind Antonio Villas Boas claimed he was abducted by aliens in 1957 in BrazilTaken on board spaceshipSeduced by female alien – who made “barking” noises during sex!
9Betty and Barney Hill, 1961Driving from Montreal to New Hampshire in September 1961Saw a UFOBarney got out of the car to investigateSaw alien faces through the windows of the UFOGot scared and drove homeArrived home two hours later than expected – “missing time”Betty began having dreams of being taken on board the spaceship
10Years later…Hills consulted a psychiatrist, Dr Benjamin Simon, with respect to marital problemsUnder hypnosis, relived full abduction experienceCar had been stopped by aliensTaken on board spaceship, medically examinedBetty shown “star map” of trade routes
11The Hills’ “Abduction”: 1 the "UFO" was in fact the planet Jupiterthe "missing time" was reported inconsistently, was not noticed until weeks later (after questioning by UFOlogists) and, besides, the Hills had taken a tortuous route
12The Hills’ Abduction: 2hypnosis 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
13Whitley StrieberTwo best-selling books published in 1987 led to further interest in alien abductions – and an increase in the number of claimsWhitley Strieber’s Communion was the “true” story of the author’s own experiencesStrieber was a successful writer of horror stories with a vivid imaginationPhilip Klass (1988) presented critique, pointing out that Strieber claimed to have had many unusual experiencesattacked by skeleton on a motorbike when he was 12claimed to have been present during sniper attack – later admitted he had just made it up
14Budd Hopkins New York artist, published Intruders also in 1987 Claimed alien abduction much more common than realisedInvolved sexual abuse as part of cross-breeding projectPlaces great emphasis upon “missing time” and uses hypnosis to “retrieve” memories
15Blackmore’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.
16Blackmore’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.
17Common Themes Mostly “greys” these days Tours of the aliens’ ship Trips to other planetsReceipt of messages to humanity, often involving warnings of future destruction through pollution or nuclear warAbduction scenario is part of our culture
18IncidenceStrieber (1998) claimed to have received almost a quarter of a million letters from individuals claiming alien contactIt is often claimed that many more people have experienced alien abduction than actually report it becausepeople know that they will be ridiculed if they tell others of their bizarre experienceit is claimed that the aliens are able to erase the memories of the abductees for the experience
19The 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%]
20The 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%]
21Interpretation 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 aliens2% of their sampleExtrapolated 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
22Are Claimants Lying? Motivations Financial?Social?Occasional hoaxes (e.g., Travis Walton) but most claimants appear to be sincere and avoid any kind of publicity
23Evidence for ET Hypothesis Missing Embryo/Foetus Syndromeno convincing documented casesAlien implantsmundane explanation“disappear” before scientific analysis
24Psychopathology? (1)Major psychopathology is no more common amongst abductees than the general populationBartholomew, Basterfield, & Howard, 1991Bloecher, Clamar, & Hopkins, 1985Mack, 1994Parnell & Sprinkle, 1990Rodeghier et al., 1991Spanos, Cross, Dickson, & DuBreuil, 1993
25Psychopathology? (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”
26Psychopathology? (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.
27Psychopathology? (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.
28The 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”.
29The 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.
30Are 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 ...
31Are 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” (?)
32DissociationDissociative 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).
33Dissociation and Childhood Trauma Tendency to dissociate is associated with histories of childhood trauma which in turn are correlated with fantasy pronenessIt 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.
34Fantasy-Proneness, Childhood Trauma & the Paranormal Possible explanations:fantasy-prone individuals have appropriate psychological profile to experience genuine paranormal events ORfantasy-prone individuals imagine paranormal events but think they are realwith fantasy-proneness developing as defence mechanism as previously described ORreports of childhood trauma are themselves fantasies
35Hypnotic RegressionUsed 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.
36Spanos 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.
37Spanos 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).
38Spanos 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.
39Spanos 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).
40Lawson’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)
41Susceptibility to False Memories Clancy, McNally, Schacter, Lenzenweger, and Pitman (2002) used DRM to compare three groups:those with conscious memories of alien abductionthose who believed themselves to have been abducted but had no memories of itthose who did not claim to have been abductedAbductees most susceptible to false memories
42The 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 experienceNo significant differences on direct measure of susceptibility to false memories (DRM task)Experiencers also reported higher incidence of sleep paralysis
43Sleep Paralysis Waking up unable to move, often accompanied by … a terrifying sense of a malign presencehypnagogic/hypnopompic imageryauditory/visual hallucinations (lights, strange figures)pressure on the chestfloating sensations
44Cheyne, 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.”
45Cheyne, 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”.
46Cross-Cultural Interpretations of ASP Newfoundland – the “Old Hag”Japan – “kanashibari”St Lucia – “kokma”Europe in the Middle Ages – incubus and succubus
47Temporal Lobe Activity and Tectonic Strain Theory (1) Michael Persinger (e.g., 1990) believes that many ostensibly paranormal experiences reflect unusual activity in the temporal lobesTemporal lobe epilepsy is associated with odd sensations, déjà vu, hallucinations, out-of-body experiences.
48Temporal 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)
49Temporal 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
50Temporal Lobe Activity and Tectonic Strain Theory (4) 79 volunteers exposed to unusual EMFs, infrasound, both or neither for 50 minsUnusual sensations and experiences recordedMany 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
51Temporal 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.
52Content of Alien Abduction Narratives Birth memories? (Lawson, 1984)Sado-masochistic fantasies? (Newman & Baumeister, 1996, 1998)Ambivalence towards modern technology? (Matheson, 1998)
53Hypnotic 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.
54Hypnotic 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” ...
55The Bloxham Tapes Arnall Bloxham, Cardiff-based hypnotherapist Recorded past-life regression sessionsFeatured 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 CouerLife in Roman Britain
56Explanation of the Bloxham Tapes Melvin HarrisEvans claimed Couer was single but the historical record showed he was married with childrenBut in historical novel, The Moneyman, author Thomas B. Costain had taken the literary liberty of making him singleRoman Briton incarnation based on novel The Living Wood, as fictional characters appear in Evans’ accountCrytomnesia
57Spanos et al. (e.g., 1994)Fantasy prone personality is particularly likely to report detailed accounts of past livesNarratives 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?)
58Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) Formerly Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD)Cf. past-life regressionApparently different personas who may or may not be aware of each otherUsually only emerges in therapy following leading hypnotic interviewsOften claimed to be the result of Satanic ritualised abuse (SRA)
59Satanic Ritualised Abuse No forensic evidence supports claims of widespread and powerful networks engaged in SRAClaims pushed strongly by the Evangelical Christian movement in USAMichelle Remembers, Smith & Pazder (1980)
60Iatrogenic Origins of DID The majority of therapists report never having come across such patients, a small minority report a large number of casesThe percentage of DID cases reporting ritualised abuse rose from 25% in the mid-1980s to as high as 80% in some centres by 1992Such cases are still relatively rare in the UK compared to a much higher reported incidence in the US
61Spanos 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).
62Conclusion (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.
63Conclusion (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.
64Conclusion (3)Similar “memory retrieval” techniques are used to “retrieve” memories of childhood sexual abuse, ritualised satanic abuse, alien abduction episodes and past livesThe accumulated evidence strongly suggests that all such apparent memories are false memories
65AcknowledgementWith 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.