Out-of-body experiences (OBEs) are generally associated with traumatic incidents or illness like migraine, epilepsy and psychopathology. However, healthy and psychologically normal people too can have OBEs. A recent research has linked OBE to neural instabilities in the brain's temporal lobes and to errors in the body's sense of itself.
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.
The purpose of the study was to understand how such hallucinations can occur and how normal 'in-the-body' mental processes work and why, when they break down, they produce such striking experiences.
Braithwaite and his 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 - 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.
The study is published in the July 2011 issue of Elsevier's Cortex.