Is it possible to induce an Out-of-Body-Experience (OBE) using hypnotic suggestion? What might be the electroencephalogram (EEG ) correlates of this experience compared with the EEG correlates of a deep hypnosis?

A Parapsychological Association Research Endowment (PARE) grant provided funding for a group of researchers to explore these questions during hypnosis-induced out-of-body experiences. The study’s results, published in pre-print version by the Social Sciences Research Network, shows differences between deep hypnosis and ordinary consciousness states and provides insight into cognitive function and brain activity during this special altered-state of consciousness.

The project, led by Luciano Pederzoli with the collaboration of Willliam Giroldini, Gian Marco Duma, Giovanni Mento, Elena Prati, and Patrizio Tressoldi, was carried out in sessions at EvanLab in Florence, Italy and the Dipartimento di Psicologia Generale, Università di Padova, in Padua, Italy. Information about the participants’ altered states was collected through real-time dialogue during their individual experiences and through written questionnaires afterward. This information was then integrated with the EEG (electrical activity in the brain) data recorded during the hypnosis-induced OBE. Researchers noted neurophysiological markers of the special state of consciousness versus control states through differences in EEG and delta brainwave activity.

Participants agreed to be induced through hypnosis to have an out-of-body experience (OBE). This method allows researchers a unique opportunity to gain insight into the phenomenological characteristics of this special state of consciousness because the participants retain control over cognitive activities and vocal chords. The five participants were chosen for two reasons: a willingness to be induced into a hypnotic state and a successful pass of pre-study test sessions with hypnotist. EEG activity data during the induced OBE was compared against recorded EEG data under control conditions (relaxing with the eyes open, imagining an OBE, being under hypnosis, having a free OBE, conversing with the hypnotist while having an OBE, and a normal state of consciousness). An increase in power spectrum density and a decrease of coherence in the delta band were observed.

The researchers tentatively affirm that the state of consciousness induced during the project is different from a state of deep hypnosis. They note high levels of self-awareness, memory, rationality, voluntary control, and positive emotions. This is consistent with the phenomenology reported in spontaneous or post-traumatic OBEs and indicative of a cognizant and volitional mental state. This project opens up opportunities for the more detailed study of cognitive characteristics of this particular state of consciousness, as well as invites further discussion of the implications of the mind-brain relationship.

Funding for PARE awards was made possible through a generous donation by Dr. Gertrude Schmeidler, who was a leading researcher and educator in the field of parapsychology. The awards are administered annually by the Board of the Parapsychological Association. One or more awards are made each year to cover the direct costs of conducting scientific research.

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