After-death communications: A consideration of new cases that bear on the question of survival

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Evelyn Elsaesser,a Chris A. Roe,b Callum E. Cooper,b Sophie Morrison,b & David Lorimerc 
aChavannes de Bogis, Switzerland , bExceptional Experiences & Consciousness Studies Research Group, University of Northampton, UK , cScientific and Medical Network, UK 

Summary: A spontaneous After-Death Communication (ADC) occurs when a bereaved person unexpectedly perceives the deceased person. This may be through the senses of sight, hearing, smell, or touch, but experients might simply feel the presence of the deceased person or have an impression of having received a contact or a communication, for example during sleep. The deceased person is perceived in a manner that is typically interpreted by experients as indicative of the continued survival of some aspect of that person. 

This phenomenon is quite common among those who have suffered a bereavement, with an estimated 25-50% reporting one or more ADCs (Cooper et al., 2015), and have been reported in different cultures and times (Haraldsson, 2012; Sidgwick et al., 1894). Despite their widespread occurrence, ADCs have been little researched and are absent from the media and public discourse. As a consequence, persons who experience an ADC usually have no frame of reference in terms of which to understand, integrate, and benefit fully from this experience, and fear that disclosure will cause them to be labelled as credulous, or even as suffering from some pathology (Evenden et al., 2013; Roxburgh & Roe, 2014). For many participants, involvement in a research study can be the first time they have spoken openly about such experiences; Rees (1975) reported that only 27.7% of his participants had previously discussed their exceptional experiences (EEs) with anyone, and just 14.6% had told more than one person. Although some did not share their experiences because they believed that others would be uninterested or potentially upset by them, approximately half the sample believed that they would be ridiculed, reinforcing the impression that such experiences are stigmatized. This reticence acts as a hindrance to research into the effects of anomalous experiences upon the bereavement process. 

Although the vast majority of experients are convinced of the authenticity of their experience, ADCs are by nature intrinsically subjective, and therefore susceptible to explanation as a psychological response to a deep emotional need. People profoundly affected by the death of a family member or friend might imagine having experienced these perceptions, even unconsciously, as their suffering would be so intense that they would be unable to cope with life without the loved one by their side, if only for brief, hallucinatory moments. There are, however, some types of ADCs that are more resistant to explanation in such terms and are therefore more evidential with respect to the survival hypothesis. These include contacts during which previously unknown information is perceived (such as the unexpected passing of the perceived deceased person); contacts witnessed simultaneously by more than one person; and contacts that occur when the experient is not in bereavement (e.g., perception of unknown deceased persons) so that a psychodynamic explanation is implausible. This presentation will focus on new cases that involve previously unknown information so as to evaluate the degree to which it supports the survival hypothesis. 

Data and Methodology: The research project received ethical approval from the University of Northampton and was pre-registered with the Koestler Parapsychology Unit registry. An extensive online questionnaire was constructed in three language versions (English, French, and Spanish) using the JISC online surveys platform that asked about the circumstances of occurrence, type of ADC, message conveyed, emotions and sense of reality associated with the experience, impact and implications for the grieving process, and profile of the experient and of the deceased person perceived (including cause of death). Some of the outcomes from this survey have been reported in Elsaesser et al. (2021, in press), Evrard et al. (2021), Penburthy et al. (2021), and Woollacott et al. (2021). 

In this talk we will present an original analysis that focuses on those cases in which respondents reported that the ADC communication included information that was previously unknown to them and give an evaluation of the degree to which it constitutes evidence in support of the survival hypothesis. 

Cooper, C. E., Roe, C.A., & Mitchell, G. (2015). Anomalous experiences and the bereavement process. In T. Cattoi, & C. Moreman (Eds.), Death, dying and mysticism: The ecstasy of the end (pp.117-131). Palgrave Macmillan. 

Evenden, R. E., Cooper, C. E., & Mitchell, G. (2013). A counselling approach to mediumship: Adaptive outcomes of grief following an exceptional experience. Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology, 2(1), 14-23. 

Elsaesser, E., Roe, C. A., Cooper, C. E., & Lorimer, D. (2021). The phenomenology and impact of hallucinations concerning the deceased. BJPsychOpen, 7(5), e148.  

Elsaesser, E., Roe, C. A., Cooper, C. E., & Lorimer, D. (in press). Phänomenologie und auswirkungen von spontanen nachtod-kontakten (NTK): Forschungsergebnisse und fallstudien. Zeitschrift für Anomalistik 

Evrard, R., Dollander, M., Elsaesser, E., Cooper, C., Lorimer, D., & Roe, C. (2021). Expériences exceptionnelles nécrophaniques et deuil paradoxal: Études de la phénoménologie et des répercussions des vécus effrayants de contact avec les défunts. Evolution psychiatrique.  

Haraldsson, E. (2012). Departed among the living. White Crow Books. 

Penberthy, J. K., Pehlivanova, M., Kalelioglu, T., Roe, C. A., Cooper, C. E., Lorimer, D., & Elsaesser, E. (2021). Factors moderating the impact of after death communications on beliefs and spirituality. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying. DOI: 10.1177/00302228211029160  

Rees, D. (1975). The bereaved and their hallucinations. In I. Schoenberg, A. Gerber, A. H. Wiener, D. Kutscher, & A. C. Carr (Eds.), Bereavement: Its psychosocial aspects (pp. 66-71). Columbia University.  

Sidgwick, H., Sidgwick, E., & Johnson, A. (1894). Report on the census of hallucinations. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 10, 25-422. 

Woollacott, M., Roe, C. A., Cooper, C. E., Lorimer, D., & Elsaesser, E. (2021). Perceptual phenomena associated with spontaneous experiences of after-death communication: Analysis of visual, tactile, auditory and olfactory sensations. Explore.  

Course Instructor

Chris Roe
Chris Roe Author

Chris Roe holds a Chair in Psychology at the University of Northampton, UK, and is Director of the Centre for the Psychology and Social Sciences that is based there. He is a Vice-President of the Society for Psychical Research. His research focuses on the phenomenology of paranormal experience and its effects on wellbeing, as well as experimental approaches to test for psi, particularly where they involve psychological factors or altered states of consciousness.

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