Monday, July 31, 2017

Psychological Approaches to UFOs, Abductions and Close Encounters

I wanted to provide abstracts and snippets from peer reviewed journals in relation to UFOs, alien abductions and close encounters.  This is really what lured me into posting about the phenomena.
My general view, based on my current profession, is that some UFO related encounters have a psychological component, and to a rare occasion, a psychiatric element.  That's not to mean that people who see something are psychotic, on the contrary, the sighting may be very real, but information (missing) may lead to an illogical conclusion.

I've been exploring the possibility of brief neuro-physiological conditions that induce momentary psycho-pathological events that alter the perception of reality or conscious awareness.  This may involve the increase in neural transmitters in the neuronal synapses caused by stress or an undetected physiological condition.
Most of the abstracts provided tends to address the more complex and bizarre nature concerning the perception of alien abductions and close encounters. 

The contribution of metaphor and metonymy to delusions  

Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice

Volume 77Issue 1pages 1–17March 2004

Mr. John E. Rhodes1,*S. Jakes2

This article investigates the possible role of metaphorical thinking in psychotic delusions. Twenty-five participants with delusions were asked to give an account of how their ideas had formed and to describe recent experiences relevant to their delusional beliefs. The data suggest that for some participants there may have been a crucial period when the person has unusual experiences, psychosocial difficulties, and made attempts involving metaphor/metonymy to understand these experiences. Furthermore, some participants reported very recent unusual experiences using metaphorical terms, and we speculate on the possibility that the content of the metaphors contributes to a continuation of psychotic experience. The data form a series of case illustrations and are exploratory. No generalizations can be made, but the presence of significant metaphors and metonymy in 11 out of 25 case histories suggests the process may be an important one.  We end by outlining a theoretical model of how metaphors might contribute to the formation of delusions: it is suggested that delusional statements are intended to be literal statements, but report on experiences transformed by metaphorical meaning. This transformation involves the ‘fusion’ of conceptual domains.
This reminds me when I was completing my clinical rotation in psychiatric nursing and spent up to 2 months following a paranoid schizophrenic (Jefferson Barracks VA Center, St. Louis). Metaphoric thinking appeared to be predominant in his thought well as audible hallucinations.

There was no UFO componet in his delusional thinking, but bizarre none the less, as the rock group KISS played a predominate role in the delusion.  KISS was based on a obscure planet in our solar system and apparently it's band members played an important role in protecting the Earth, if not the galaxy.  KISS was the metaphoric incarnation of universal salvation for my patient, that is, it's how he had perceived it to be.

This young man kept a journal consisting of his rambling thoughts.  True to form, as it is with schizophrenics, the writings were fragmented, circumstantial, with tangential patterns.  Over the course of months, I would discover that there was a pattern.  I could piece the fragments together and what would unfold was a complete story line...still bizarre in detail...but none the less, a complete piece of work.  Again the individual band members played an important role (messianic?).  They were the metaphor as described by Rhodes and Jakes.

Toward an explanation of the UFO abduction phenomenon: Hypnotic elaboration, extraterrestrial sadomasochism, and spurious memories

LS Newman, RF Baumeister - Psychological Inquiry, 1996
Autobiographical memories are often suspect. For example, a surprisingly large number of people report having been abducted by extraterrestrials. We offer a prototype of the abduction experience and an assessment of the frequency of such reports. These accounts are hard to dismiss on the basis of mendacity or insanity, but there are ample reasons to doubt their literal accuracy. We offer a cognitive-motivational explanation for how spurious memories of unidentified flying object (UFO) abductions can be created and maintained. The motivational roots lie in the desire to escape from ordinary self-awareness, and this explanation is supported by parallels between UFO abduction accounts and masochistic fantasies. The cognitive bases involve the integration and elaboration of hallucinations, general knowledge, and contextual cues into full-blown accounts, usually with the aid of hypnosis. Due to the pitfalls of hypnosis, people develop a high degree of confidence in the veridicality of spurious UFO abduction memories.

Newman and Baumeister appear to take the approach that UFO abductions are motivatedin the desire of the abductee to escape his/her self awareness (assuming ones awareness of a past traumatic event).  The masochistic fantasy conjecture may be a bit too much.  But note the issue of using hypnosis as an aid and the some to endorse the totally veracity of regressive memories. (See blog post about Kimball's interview with Robert Salas).

More to come...


  1. " . . . brief neuro-physiological conditions that induce momentary psycho-pathological events that alter the perception of reality or conscious awareness."

    Agree. The trigger for these could be anything from a stressful external event to a physiological "malfunction" caused by any number of factors (e.g., disease, prescription or non-prescription drugs, alcohol, sleep deprivation, dehydration, seizure, etc.).

    Ufology has an agenda - to prove aliens are real and are here (the sacred cash cow). Therefore, it never focuses on the physical condition and mind set of the "witness" at the time of the event, but only on what was allegedly seen. ("Was it as big as a quarter held at arm's length?")

  2. PG, I have a post coming soon that compares abductions scenarios and centuries old witch trials/inquisitions...the similarities are interesting from a psychological standpoint.