Public Release: 

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

Elsevier

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 Dr Jason 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.uk. Cortex is available online at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00109452

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services. The company works in partnership with the global science and health communities to publish more than 2,000 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and close to 20,000 book titles, including major reference works from Mosby and Saunders. Elsevier's online solutions include SciVerse ScienceDirect, SciVerse Scopus, Reaxys, MD Consult and Nursing Consult, which enhance the productivity of science and health professionals, and the SciVal suite and MEDai's Pinpoint Review, which help research and health care institutions deliver better outcomes more cost-effectively.

A global business headquartered in Amsterdam, Elsevier employs 7,000 people worldwide. The company is part of Reed Elsevier Group PLC, a world-leading publisher and information provider, which is jointly owned by Reed Elsevier PLC and Reed Elsevier NV. The ticker symbols are REN (Euronext Amsterdam), REL (London Stock Exchange), RUK and ENL (New York Stock Exchange).

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