A new study expands our knowledge of what is happening in the body during an out-of-body experience.
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. And while much is still unknown, the new study links 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.
Neuropsychologist Dr. Jason Braithwaite of the University of Birmingham in the U.K. has been investigating the underlying factors associated with the propensity for normal healthy individuals to have an OBE.
Braithwaite and colleagues 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.
The experience is 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.
The findings are published in the July 2011 issue of the journal Cortex.