What happens when a psychologist is abducted by aliens?

The estimated number of Americans reported to have been abducted by aliens reaches into the millions (four, to be precise). This means that the support for alien existence is 4 million voices strong, sounds like a pretty big sample size to me. So why don’t we (scientists) believe any of them? Well, people with a scientific background generally look for more concrete evidence before drawing conclusions. A psychologist could offer several alternative possibilities to these outlandish claims.

1. Mental illness

People who report abductions are more likely to be open to unusual experiences, be more imaginative and creative, have more depressive thinking, be suspicious, and have suffered childhood trauma. These tendencies alone might not suffice to explain such strange experiences.

2. The fallibility of human memory

Like everything else about us, our memories are imperfect. Sometimes we incorrectly remember the facts of a situation. Other times, we end up mixing some of the aspects of a recent event with bits and pieces of information from our long-term memories. Those folks who claim to have been abducted by aliens seem to have less perfect memories than others, meaning that they are more likely to have false memory in general (Clancy et al., 2002).

3. Temporal lobe disturbance

This area of the brain may be responsible for creepy, other-worldly experiences. Placing magnets near the temporal lobes outside the head can induce feelings of fear, disorientation, and even a ‘presence’. Pretty freaky stuff.

4. Sleep Paralysis

This phenomenon was the most interesting to me. When you are sleeping and entering the REM cycle (the time when you dream), your brain kicks into body-movement blocking mode. You don’t want to act out your dreams, so you are essentially immobilized. Sometimes people sleepwalk when the system fails at keeping your muscles inactive when you’re unconscious. The opposite can also happen; your brain fails to stop blocking body movement s when consciousness is regained. Thus, you are awake, but unable to move and feel helpless. This weird state is often accompanied by hallucinogenic happenings, such as a greenish creature with an abnormally large head hovering over you.

But let’s get back to the question I posed in the title. What happens when a psychologist experiences a so-called ‘alien abduction’? Well, as anyone who has taken an intro psychology course knows, we tend to start self-diagnosing when we are aware of the specific descriptions of pathologies. So, they are probably going to self diagnose themselves as having tendencies towards imaginative behavior, creating false memories, having messed up temporal lobes, and/or being afflicted with sleep paralysis. Though, I’d love to see the statistic telling us how many of the 4 million reported abductions include anyone with a degree in psychology…

References:

http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2002/9/1/14038/46155

Clancy, S.A., McNally, R.J., Schacter, D.L., Lenzenweger, M.F. & Pitman, R.K. (2002) Memory distortion in people reporting abduction by aliens. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111 (3), 455-461

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4 thoughts on “What happens when a psychologist is abducted by aliens?

  1. WOW, weird. I want to know more about sleep paralysis. Did they give a neurological reason for why is it common, in these situations, to see a green creature? It seems like a random vision! Honestly, if I saw that I don’t know how much my psychology background would help me rationalize. It would be so strange…!

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  2. Good point Reesa, it’s not necessarily that this phenomenon usually involves a green alien image, that’s just one example. But from how I understood it, it is more that unearthly/non-human appearances are pretty common, as is the feeling of being restrained or surrounded by an ethereal ‘presence’. Still pretty out there.

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  3. I wonder what our distant (as a result of me running far, far away) cousins, the paranormal psychologists, would respond…. I think your argument applies to ghost sightings too…. maybe more? Dare I say angels? 🙂 Some similarity to our near-death experience discussion too. Great entry, Robyn!

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