Out-of-body Experiences Linked to Neural Instability and Biases in Body Representation

New study sheds light on OBEs in healthy and psychologically normal individuals.

Milan, Italy, 11 July 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 temporal lobes, as well as biases in “body representation” in the brain.
 

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Notes to Editors
The article is “Cognitive correlates of the spontaneous out-of-body experience (OBE) in the psychologically normal population: Evidence for an increased role of temporal-lobe instability, body-distortion processing, and impairments in own-body transformations” by Jason J. Braithwaite, Dana Samson, Ian Apperly, Emma Broglia, and Johan Hulleman, and appears in Cortex, Volume 47, Issue 7 (July 2010)published by Elsevier in Italy. Full text of the article featured above is available to members of the media upon request. Please contact the Elsevier press office, newsroom@elsevier.com. To schedule an interview, contact DrJason Braithwaite, j.j.braithwaite@bham.ac.uk.

About Cortex
Cortex is an international journal devoted to the study of cognition and of the relationship between the nervous system and mental processes, particularly as these are reflected in the behaviour of patients with acquired brain lesions, normal volunteers, children with typical and atypical development, and in the activation of brain regions and systems as recorded by functional neuroimaging techniques. It was founded in 1964 by Ennio De Renzi. The Editor in-chief of Cortex is Sergio Della Sala, Professor of Human Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. Fax: 0131 6513230, e-mail: cortex@ed.ac.ukCortex is available online at  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00109452

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps institutions and professionals progress science, advance healthcare and improve performance for the benefit of humanity. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, more than 35,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX Group, a global provider of information and analytics for professionals and business customers across industries. www.elsevier.com

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