Near Death Experiences, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Psychic Phenomena in a Latin American Sample: A Preliminary Study
Alex A. Álvarez1,2, & Ramses D’León1,2
1Unidad Parapsicológica de Investigación, Difusión y Enseñanza (UPIDE), Mexico City, Mexico
2Centro de Investigación de la Sintergia y la Consciencia (CISC), Mexico City, Mexico
Introduction: It is widely recognized that Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) are associated with a series of changes in different aspects of people’s lives (Sartori & Walsh, 2017), such as psychological, spiritual, social, etc. (Sutherland, 1992). Overall, those changes are mostly positive (Bauer, 1985). Besides, some studies report an increase of psychic (or psi) experiences after having an NDE (Greyson, 1983; Ring, 1984; Sutherland, 1989). So far, most of the studies involving NDErs (i.e., people that undergo an NDE) have mainly focused on European and American populations, and from other countries to a lesser extent.
Here, we present the first study that focusses exclusively on Spanish-speaking people, most from Latin America and a few from Spain. For this analysis, we focus on two main factors: identify if there is a higher prevalence of psi phenomena after the NDE; and evaluate if these types of experiences, given the traumatic context in which they usually occur, can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Methods: We designed a battery of scales that was shared on different social networks through groups related to NDEs, parapsychology, and similar topics. This battery contains: a) the Greyson scale, translated into Spanish and validated by Jiménez-Garrido et al. 2015; b) the Transliminality scale, designed by Michael Thalbourne and translated and validated into Spanish by D’León, Gutiérrez and Hernández (2017); and c) the PTSD revised symptom severity scale (Echeburúa et al., 2016). We also included a series of questions related with specific features of the NDE, and a questionnaire related to the presence of psychic abilities before and after the experience (Sutherland, 1989). In addition, respondents had the choice to describe or not their experience in detail. The response collection process began in July 2020 and ended on December 31, 2021.
We carried out different analyzes of descriptive and inferential statistics, including correlational ones between all variables. All statistical analyses were performed with the SPSS software.
Results: 181 participants, aged 15 to 48, answered the survey. We discarded 22 that failed to answer the survey properly, and another 18 that did not reach the minimum value of 7 in the Greyson Scale, which indicates that they did not have a true NDE. The most common situation leading to a NDE was having a medical condition (heart attack, stroke, coma, intoxication, etc., 30%), followed by a traumatic injury (car crash, serious fall, blow to the head, etc., 19%), and surgical intervention (use of anesthetics, operation, etc., 12%). For 39 of the subjects, their NDE seems to have led to PTSD. The mean value in the transliminality scale was 13, which is about one standard deviation above the average (D’León & Izara, 2017). Except for déjà vu and intuition, all the other psychic abilities considered were reported more frequently after the NDE than before it (Fig. 1).
We found that men are more likely to have PTSD, and that this disorder is negatively correlated with age (r=-0.30, p<0.01). Also, a negative correlation was found between a high score in the PTSD scale and post-NDE optimism (r=-0.26, p<0.01). Age was positively correlated with NDEs associated with a medical condition (r=0.24, p<0.01). The scores in the Transliminality scale were positively correlated with the Greyson (r=0.28, p<0.01) and PTSD (r=0.31, p<0.01) scales, and the score in the Greyson scale was negatively correlated with that of the PTSD scale (r=-0.20, p=0.016).
Discussion: Although most of the people in our study reported an NDE as a result of situations that could be considered traumatic, the vast majority of them (79%) did not present PTSD. The negative correlation between the Greyson and PTSD scales is quite interesting; it suggests that the deeper the NDE, the less likely a person is to develop PTSD. As expected, it is more likely that people develop an optimistic attitude when they do not experience PTSD symptoms, as indicated by the negative correlation between these variables.
Within the general population, women are twice as likely to develop PTSD as men (Christiansen & Elklit, 2012) because of various traumatic situations that do not necessarily put life at risk. However, in this study we found that men are more likely to develop PTSD than women. This might be related to the fact that women are more likely to believe in paranormal and spiritual phenomena (Blackmore, 1994; Silva & Woody, 2022), which could lead them to assimilate more quickly what they experienced during the NDE and incorporate it into their lives.
The fact that psi phenomena are reported more frequently after than before the NDE suggests that these experiences might serve as a catalyst that changes “something” within people so that they become more prone to experience this other aspect of reality. This “something” may be a biological trait, probably located within the brain, that allows us to perform abilities that fall into the realm of the supernormal. As I have suggested previously (Álvarez, 2021), this could be triggered by changes in signaling pathways that lead to changes in neuronal connectivity. There is evidence that this kind of changes can occur when the brain is deprived of blood flow (Sugawara et al., 2004) and oxygen (Ning et al., 1999), as it happens during many NDEs.
Álvarez, A. (2021). The roads to supernormality: A biological perspective [Paper presentation]. SSE-PA Connections 2021, online. https://youtu.be/nWlS8Mv-E2Q
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Alejandro is a Mexican biologist and PhD candidate currently doing his PhD in the field of Evolutionary Biology. He has been a Student Member of the Parapsychological Association for three years, independent researcher for the last four years, and a member of UPIDE for the last two years. He is interested in explaining psychic abilities from an evolutionary perspective, a scarce viewpoint in the field. He co-founded the Research Center of Sintergy and Consciousness.
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Excellent presentation; let’s focus on more analysis to get this published 🙂
Impressive Alejandro to get this done during the lock downs. Thank you.
Very nice, simple, and straightforward study! I loved the scales you chose to examine together and the simple presentation of your results.