As a teenager I was fascinated with LSD purely as a consequence of my love of The Beatles and its alleged association with songs such as ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds‘ (I say ‘alleged’ because all Beatle fanatics know that this song got its’ title from a drawing by John Lennon’s son Julian and that lyrically the song was inspired by the writings of Lewis Carroll, the creator of Alice in Wonderland [AIW], a book which gave its’ name to AIW Syndrome that I examined in a couple of previous blogs).
When I first started teaching my ‘Addictive Behaviours’ module back in 1990, almost all my lectures concentrated on drug addictions (as opposed to behavioural addictions which now take centre stage in my teaching), and it was my session on hallucinogenic drugs (also known as psychedelic drugs) that was always the most fun to teach and the topic that students appeared to be most engaged in. Like many of my students, I have always been interested in altered states of consciousness both in my own research into addiction and the topic more generally.
The reason why I mention all these things as that I did a media interview on the hallucinogenic effects of virtual reality products. The interview was based on comments by Microsoft researcher Mar Gonzalez Franco, who said that virtual reality will soon replace the need for hallucinogenic drugs. More specifically, she was quoted as saying:
“By 2027 we will have ubiquitous virtual reality systems that will provide such rich multi-sensorial experiences that will be capable of producing hallucinations which blend or alter perceived reality. Using this technology, humans will retrain, recalibrate and improve their perceptual systems…In contrast to current virtual reality systems that only stimulate visual and auditory senses, in the future the experience will expand to other sensory modalities including tactile with haptic devices“.
Claims that VR products have the potential to induce hallucinogenic experiences have already started appearing in the media. A recent story in the Daily Mail reported that there was already a VR app (SelfSound) that claimed it can reproduce the effects of hallucinogenic drugs and “plays on the neurological phenomena known as synaesthesia” and that a “program is used to promote mediation through creating abstract reality [and] plays face-melting music with synesthetic DMT-style visualizations uniquely generated in response to [a person’s] voice”. (DMT is an abbreviation for dimethyltryptamine, a powerful hallucinogenic drug).
Over the last seven years, I have published a series of studies with Dr. Angelica Ortiz de Gotari (some of them listed in the ‘Further reading’ section below) showing that hallucinations are common among video gamers in our working examining Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP). Therefore, it’s no surprise that VR games can do the same thing. We have reported that visual and auditory hallucinations are commonly experiences by regular videogame players.
For instance, one of our studies published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction found that some video gamers experience altered visual perceptions after playing (e.g., distorted versions of real world surroundings). Others saw video game images and misinterpreted real life objects after they had stopped playing. Gamers reported seeing video game menus popping up in front their eyes when they were in a conversation, or saw coloured images and ‘heads up’ displays when driving on the motorway. Our study analysed 656 experiences from 483 gamers collected in 54 online video game forums. Visual illusions can easily trick the brain, and staring at visual stimuli can cause ‘after-images’ or ‘ghost images’ among videogame players. We found that GTP were triggered by associations between video game experiences, and objects and activities in real life contexts. Our findings also raised questions about the effects of the exposure to specific visual effects used in video games.
We also reported that in some playing experiences, video game images appeared without awareness and control of the gamers, and in some cases, the images were uncomfortable, especially when gamers could not sleep or concentrate on something else. These experiences also resulted in irrational thoughts such as gamers questioning their own mental health, getting embarrassed or performing impulsive behaviours in social contexts. However, other gamers clearly thought that these experiences were fun and some even tried to induce them.
Visual experiences identified in GTP show us the interplay of physiological, perceptual and cognitive mechanisms and the potential of learning with video games even without awareness. It also invites us to reflect about the effects of prolonged exposure to synthetic stimuli and the challenges that the human mind affront due to the technological advances that are still to come. However, because we collected our data for most of our published studies from online video game forums, the psychological profile of the gamers in our studies are unknown. However, different gamers reported similar experiences in the same games. This highlights the relevance of the video games’ structural characteristics but gamers’ habits also appear to be crucial. Some gamers may be more susceptible than others to experience GTP. The effects of these experiences appear to be short-lived, but some gamers experience them recurrently. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that more research is needed to understand the cognitive and psychological implications of GTP. Most of these GTP experiences are viewed positively but a small minority of players find them detrimental.
Whether such hallucinations – either in typical videogames or VR videogames – can be induced on demand is debatable. Very few players in our own research said they were able to induce hallucinations. At present, we simply don’t know what the long-term effects of VR gaming will be and that goes for VR-induced gaming hallucinations too. It may be the case that VR induced hallucinogenic states will be ‘safer’ than ones induced by psychedelic drugs as there is no ingestion of a psychoactive substance, but that’s just speculation on my part.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Cawley, C. (2016). Virtual Reality could make you hallucinate; Don’t freak out. Tech Co, December 15. Located at: http://tech.co/virtual-reality-hallucinate-dont-freak-2016-12
Hamill, J. (2016). Windows of perception: Microsoft says virtual reality will soon have same mind-bending effects as LSD. The Sun, December 7. Located at: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2347705/microsoft-says-virtual-reality-will-soon-have-same-mind-bending-effects-as-lsd/
Liberatore, S. (2016). That’s trippy! Watch the VR app that claims to be able to reproduce the effects of a hallucinogenic drug. Daily Mail, May 4, Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3572184/That-s-trippy-Watch-VR-app-claims-able-reproduce-effects-hallucinogenic-drug.html
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). An introduction to Game Transfer Phenomena in video game playing. In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Video Game Play and Consciousness (pp.223-250). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Altered visual perception in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 30, 95-105.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Auditory experiences in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 4(1), 59-75.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Automatic mental processes, automatic actions and behaviours in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study using online forum data. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 432-452.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Auditory experiences in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study. In: Gamification: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications (pp.1329-1345). Pennsylvania: IGI Global.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Prevalence and characteristics of Game Transfer Phenomena: A descriptive survey study. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 32, 470-480.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B., Pontes, H.M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The Game Transfer Phenomena Scale: An instrument for investigating the non-volitional effects of video game playing. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 18, 588-594.
Rothman, P. (2014). Virtual Reality and Drugs – Yes, you should get high before using VR. H Plus Magazine, July 31. Located at: http://hplusmagazine.com/2014/07/31/virtual-reality-and-drugs-yes-you-should-get-high-before-using-vr/
While researching a previous blog on Stendhal Syndrome, I came across various references to a number of “city syndromes”. According to an interesting book chapter by Nadia Halim, city syndromes are “acute, (usually) short-lived disorders that have in common a similar set of symptoms and pattern of onset and recovery”. Each of the city syndromes that have been identified in the psychological literature is associated with a specific tourist destination (e.g., Jerusalem, Paris, Florence) and identified by medical practitioners (usually psychiatrists) when sufferers access mental health services. In essence, the condition is a type of ‘culture shock’ where an individual becomes psychologically disorientated when they experience new environments that feel alien to them.
One such city syndromes is ‘Paris Syndrome’, a psychological condition that appears to affect Japanese tourists only, suggesting that it is some kind of culture bound syndrome. According to an article in the BBC News, Paris Syndrome was first identified in 1986 by Professor Hiroaki Ota (a Japanese psychiatrist who was working in France at the time). The condition is said to cause mental breakdown when visiting the city. The incidence of the disorder is very small as reports estimate that only 10-20 people a year suffer out of millions of tourists. However, the only ‘cure’ is for the affected individuals to return back to Japan.
As far as I am aware, there are only a couple of academic papers that have been published on Paris Syndrome. The first one was a case study published in a 1998 issue of the Journal of the Nissei Hospital by Dr. Katada Tamami. This was a report of a male manic-depressive who shortly after visiting Paris presented with symptoms of insomnia, fluctuation of mood, aggression, irritation and increase in sex drive. Tamami noted that being separated from his family, and living alone in Paris, the man had an identity crisis as in Paris he was no longer a father or professor. His fantasy and idealization of Paris played a large part in his abnormal behaviour.
The second paper was by a group of French psychiatrists in a 2004 issue in the French psychiatry journal Nervure. The authors reported that between 1988 and 2003, a total of 63 Japanese patients had been hospitalized because of the condition (with a slight bias towards females in their 30s). Although the number of affected patients was relatively low, the Japanese Embassy arranged for a Japanese psychiatrist to work in the authors’ hospital (i.e., St. Anne’s Hospital). In fact, the Japanese Embassy has a 24-hour telephone hotline for Japanese tourists suffering from severe culture shock. The paper claimed that for affected individuals, the city of Paris held a “quasi-magical” attraction and that it was characteristically “symbolic of all the aspects of European culture that are admired in Japan”. A Wikipedia article on Paris Syndrome claims that: “the susceptibility of Japanese people may be linked to the popularity of Paris in Japanese culture”. The same article also noted that:
“Mario Renoux, the president of the Franco-Japanese Medical Association, states in Liberation’s article ‘Des Japonais entre mal du pays et mal de Paris” (December 13, 2004) that Japanese magazines are primarily responsible for creating this syndrome. Renoux indicates that Japanese media, magazines in particular, often depict Paris as a place where most people on the street look like fashion models and most women dress in high-fashion brands”.
The symptoms of Paris Syndrome are typically transient and include anxiety attacks, violent and aggressive outbursts, feelings of persecution, acute psychotic delusions (of paranoia, megalomania, erotomania and/or mysticism), dissociative and/or disoriented feelings, depersonalization, derealization, psychomotor abnormalities (e.g., dizziness, sweating, tachycardia), and – in some cases – thoughts of suicide. Interviews with the affected individuals revealed that the Japanese arrive in the city with highly romanticized expectations and that many had spent years dreaming of coming to Paris before doing it in actuality.
The authors of the paper published in Nervure identified two fundamentally different types of the syndrome based on previous psychiatric problems and when the symptoms occurred:
- Type 1 [Classic]: These individuals typically have a problematic psychiatric history and may travel to Paris for idiosyncratic “strange” or delusional reasons. However, the onset of the symptoms is immediate upon arrival in Paris (and may even begin in the airport).
- Type 2 [Delayed Expression]: These individuals do not usually have a personal and/or familial psychiatric history. The reasons for visiting Paris are typically for ‘normal’ travelling reasons but the onset of the symptoms is much later than the ‘classic’ type (i.e., three months or longer after arriving in Paris).
As an example of the first type of sufferer, the paper described the case of a 39-year-old Japanese woman with a history of schizophrenia that was hospitalized following a psychotic breakdown on her immediate arrival in Paris. She had come to Paris following an advertizing campaign that had the tagline: “France is waiting for you”. She took it to mean it was her personal destiny to go there and claimed she was going to become the queen of one of the Scandinavian countries (“Sweden, Finland or Denmark”). As an example of the second type of sufferer, the paper described the case of a 30-year-old Japanese man with no previous psychiatric history who came to France for educational reasons. The onset of the symptoms was five months after arriving in France and started when he moved into a Paris hotel (after initially studying in Reims). He was hospitalized after experiencing severe anxiety, insomnia, anorexia, and auditory hallucinations (i.e., voices threatening to kill him and his family).
One of the factors that appear to be common among sufferers is that they appear to be highly unprepared for the reality of day-to-day life in the city (e.g., the marked cultural differences, the great difference in language, the difference in public manners and behaviours, etc.). It is these differences that appear to act as a trigger for the onset of the behaviour. The most salient trigger for Paris Syndrome is thought to be the language barrier. Another factor appears to be intense exhaustion caused by trying to cram in as much as possible in the short time available for sightseeing alongside the effects of jetlag. Such factors are said to contribute to the psychological destabilization of some Japanese visitors. Another French physician (Youcef Mahmoudia) working at the hospital Hotel-Dieu de Paris claimed that Paris Syndrome was “a manifestation of psychopathology related to the voyage, rather than a syndrome of the traveller” and hypothesized that it was the excitement resulting from visiting Paris that caused the psychosomatic symptoms (e.g., increased heart rates, dizziness, etc.).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Angelique, C. (2006). Paris syndrome hits Japanese. The Guardian, October 25. Located: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/oct/25/japan.france
Fastovsky N, Teitelbaum A, Zislin J, et al (2000). The Jerusalem syndrome. Psychiatric Services, 5, 1052.
Halim, N. (2009). Mad tourists: The “vectors” and meanings of city-syndromes. In K. White (Ed.), Configuring Madness. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press.
Monden, C. (2005). Development of psychopathology in international tourists. In van Tilburg, M. & Vingerhoets, A. (Eds.), Psychological Aspects of Geographical Moves: Homesickness and Acculturation Stress (pp. 213-226). Amsterdam: Amsterdam Academic Archive.
Tamami, K. (1998). Reflexions on a case of Paris syndrome. Journal of the Nissei Hospital, 26, 127-132.
Viala, A., Ota, H., Vacheron, M.N., Martin, P., & Caroli, F. (2004). Les Japonais en voyage pathologique à Paris: Un modèle original de prise en charge transculturelle. Nervure (supplement), 17(5), 31-34.
Wikipedia (2012). Paris Syndrome. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_syndrome
Wyatt, C. (December 20, 2006). Paris Syndrome strikes Japanese. BBC News, December 20/ Located at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/6197921.stm
I have to admit that I know relatively little about the neuropsychology of hallucinations. The only time I have written about them in scientific journals is in the context of excessive video gaming where there are case studies of people who appear to display auditory and/or visual game-related hallucinations, and may be part of a wider repertoire of sensory consequences of video game playing that we have coined ‘game transfer phenomena’ (and which I outlined in a previous blog).
However, in a completely different context, I recently came across a really interesting 2011 case study by Dr. Amin Gadit who published a short paper in BMJ Case Reports entitled ‘Insightful hallucination: psychopathology or paranormal phenomenon?’ Dr. Gadit noted that hallucinations are usually indicative of a serious psychiatric problem (i.e., typically some kind of psychosis) and typically require treatment. However, Dr. Gadit described the case of a 26-year old successful Pakistani businessman who was suffering hallucinations but experienced a dilemma as to whether to treat him or not because his hallucinations appeared to be providing some therapeutic benefit to his patient.
The man was married to his first cousin (also from Pakistan) and was described as being “extremely close” to his mother. Dr. Gadit reported that his patient’s wife sometimes got extremely upset (which I interpreted as being jealous) about her husband’s attachment to his mother. Following the mother’s diagnosis of a terminal illness with only a few months left to live, the man (understandably given the relationship with his mother) experienced deep emotional turmoil and upset. Dr. Gadit wrote that according to his patient that:
“[His] mother told him before dying that she would remain in contact with him after death. The patient went through a complicated bereavement period when she died. However, 6 months later, he regained his cheerful mood and started taking an interest in business again. His wife noticed that he was talking to himself for at least an hour each day. When asked, he said that his mother visits him every day and he talks to her. This was his firm belief. There was no deterioration in his personality and no other features worthy of note”.
Following these episodes of speaking to his dead mother almost every night at different times in the evening, the man’s wife persuaded him to seek psychiatric help. Dr. Gadit claimed that his patient resented being in treatment and argued that the regular “contact” with his dead mother was a positive experience and made the man happy and helped bring normality to his day-to-day life. Following initial psychiatric assessment, Dr. Gadit noted that:
“There was no significant medical history or family history indicative of any mental disorder. A thorough clinical history revealed nothing except this hallucination. The patient had retained insight as he believed that this would not happen normally but in his case was a special occurrence. He attributed this to his Muslim belief of God’s blessing in sending his mother back to him in this way. His physical examination was unremarkable and all laboratory results were normal. MRI did not reveal any pathology. His mental state examination revealed normothymic mood, delusion, visual hallucination, psychosis (with no supporting evidence), intact cognitive function and reasonable insight into his problem”.
The man’s mother appeared most evenings wearing different dresses (ones that she used to wear when she was alive) but he said his mother would not allow him to touch her when she appeared. The man was adamant that his mother appeared before him in the real world and refused any medical treatment. Organ pathology (often associated with auditory hallucinations) was ruled out as a cause, and there was insufficient evidence for a diagnosis of schizophrenia (often associated with auditory hallucinations). Ultimately, Dr. Gadit did not reach a psychiatric diagnosis and he sought a second opinion (which also failed to produce a diagnosis). The lack of formal diagnosis posed a dilemma in terms managing the presenting condition. The man had monthly appointments for over half a year with Dr. Gadit but the condition remained constant. In discussing the case, Dr. Gadit wrote that:
“The patient recognises the hallucination (perception without the presence of an external stimulus) as happening in the real world. It is important to differentiate true hallucination from ‘pseudo-hallucination’ and ‘imagery’. A pseudo-hallucination is an involuntary sensory experience vivid enough to be regarded as a hallucination but recognised by the patient as not the result of external stimuli; it would not be considered by the person to be ‘real’. Imagery is a collection of images used to create a sensory experience and is the element in a literary work used to evoke mental images and stimulate an emotional response. In the current case report, the patient believes that he can see and talk to his mother in the real world and that he is not imagining it”.
In discussing the case in relation to previous literature, Gadit made reference to a 2009 paper by H. Haween in the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science (DJUS) that reported hallucinations following bereavement typically resolve over time. Such hallucinations are most commonly in reported during the grieving process in males aged 25 to 30 years. Other similar non-psychiatric illnesses include Charles Bonnet’s Syndrome (typical sufferers being the elderly) that comprises clear hallucinations experienced among visually impaired individuals. A study dating back to 1971 by Dr. W.D. Rees and published in the British Medical Journal reported ‘widowhood hallucinations’ in 14% of Welsh widows and widowers (n=293). A more recent study in a 2002 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, a team led by Dr. L.C. Johns reported a 4% prevalence of hallucinations in white and ethnic minority populations and suggested that hallucinations are not always associated with psychotic disorders.
Gadit claimed that his male case study was “unique” as the persistent hallucinations resulted in no noticeable psychopathology, and appeared beneficial to his patient. He also speculated that the visions might be a paranormal experience or “a case of hallucinosis with a secondary delusional explanation”. Gadit claimed that paranormal phenomena are fairly common in both the developed and the developing world (and typically associated with rituals and myths).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Gadit, A.A.M. (2011). Insightful hallucination: psychopathology or paranormal phenomenon? BMJ Case Reports 2011; doi:10.1136/bcr.10.2010.3456
Heewan K. (2009). Hallucination: a normal phenomenon? Dartmouth Journal of Undergraduate Science, November 21. Located at: http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/fall-2009/hallucination-a-normal-phenomenon
Johns, L.C., Nazroo, J.Y., Bebbington, P., et al. (2002). Occurrence of hallucinatory experiences in a community sample and ethnic variations. British Journal of Psychiatry, 180, 174-178.
Menon, G.J., Rahman, I. & Menon, SJ, et al. (2003) Complex visual hallucinations in the visually impaired: the Charles Bonnet Syndrome. Survey of Ophthalmology, 48, 58-72.
Ortiz de Gotari, A., Aronnson, K. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Game Transfer Phenomena in video game playing: A qualitative interview study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 1(3), 15-33.
Rees, W.D. (1971). The hallucinations of widowhood. British Medical Journal, 4, 37-41.
Spence, S. A. (1993). Nintendo hallucinations: A new phenomenological entity. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 10, 98–99.
I apologize in advance for the rather frivolous nature of today’s blog but the topic I am going to briefly talk about comes under the banner of ‘extreme’ behaviour. Back in the early 2000s, I would be the first to admit that I was a bit of a ‘rent-a-quote’ when it came to national newspaper interviews here in the UK. It was when Dr. Rachel Bromnick (a psychologist at Lincoln University) wrote into the Guardian newspaper with this letter under the headline ‘The Prolific Professor’ that I realised I needed to start being a little more selective with who I gave interviews with:
“I was interested to read Professor Mark Griffiths’ confession [in the August 10, 2002 edition of The Guardian] that he was a collector (I knew he was a psychologist). I wonder if he hoards his own cuttings? If so, he must have a house full of paper to add to his stamps, postcards, books etc, because whenever I read a paper, magazine or journal, there he is. For those who wish to add to their Professor Griffiths cutting collection, he was also to be found quoted on the same day in the main section of the Guardian (Labour’s big gamble on casino debts, page 3)”.
The reason I mention this because I recently came across a newspaper article that I had written for my local newspaper (the Nottingham Evening Post, now re-named to the shorter Nottingham Post) that in all honesty I don’t even recall writing. At the time, I was constantly being asked by the British media about reality television shows (particularly about the new Big Brother programme), because at the time I was doing research into the psychology of fame with Dr. Adam Joinson).
One of the television shows that was aired back in 2001 on Channel 5 was a bizarre show called Touch the Truck which I would define as an ‘physical endurance game show’ that was part of the channel’s reality television programming. If you have no idea what I am talking about (and I guess most of you won’t as the series was never re-commissioned in the UK), the Wikipedia entry says:
“Touch the Truck was a British Channel 5 endurance gameshow which aired in 2001. It was hosted by Dale Winton and involved a group of 20 contestants holding onto a truck with the last person left touching the truck winning it. The show was filmed at the Lakeside Shopping Centre, Thurrock, Essex. Jerry Middleton, 39, from Winchester, Hampshire, was the winner who managed to stay awake touching the vehicle for 81 hours 43 minutes and 31 seconds…The format was devised by Glenn Barden and Dave Hills and is owned by Vashca. It has been subsequently licensed to the Philippines, Indonesia, Portugal and Turkey”.
The show only ran for five episodes and the format of the show was arguably based on an annual competition that is held in the US, and was turned into a 1990s film (Hands on a Hardbody). I also saw a similar ‘touch the car’ competition on a recent repeat (2005) episode of the wonderful US comedy My Name Is Earl (check out Episode 10, Season 1: White Lie Christmas). The Wikipedia entry on the film said that:
“Hands on a Hard Body: The Documentary is a 1997 film directed by S.R. Bindler documenting an endurance competition that took place in Longview, Texas. The yearly competition pits twenty-four contestants against each other to see who can keep their hand on a pickup truck for the longest amount of time. Whoever endures the longest without leaning on the truck or squatting wins the truck. Five minute breaks are issued every hour and fifteen minute breaks every six hours. The documentary follows the 1995 competition which lasted for seventy-seven continuous hours”.
When the show hit the airwaves on March 11 (2001), I remember doing various radio interviews and being asked about the psychological motivations of the contestants taking part, and about the psychological effects of the participants as the competition progressed. I honestly can’t recall what I said to the broadcast media but (as I said earlier) I came across an article that I wrote for the Nottingham Evening Post about the show. I’m a little embarrassed at re-reading what I wrote but here are some of the things I said. Obviously my thoughts were for my local paper and not an academic paper:
“What a bizarre piece of television but what compelling television…It’s an endurance test and people want to almost share the agonies and the miseries that people go through. In a way, you live vicariously through them. It’s emotional and sometimes draining to watch them. As long as there is medical supervision, there is no problem in what they are doing…People aren’t bonkers for doing it, they want to win [the car], they want to win a big prize. It might be equivalent to a year’s salary, so it’s quite an incentive. The only thing I would say is that you would need training to do it. All of us may think it’s easy, but it’s not…People were hallucinating, and an Albanian-born man started speaking in Albanian, even though he didn’t realise it. Daydreams, headaches, these are all known side effects. On the Channel 5 show there was a woman who was so tired, she was forgetting to breathe and her blood pressure was dropping, so you do need medical people on hand who can stop you if necessary. It’s a person’s own choice if they want to do something like this. Hopefully no-one is going to have long-term damage from this. Certainly no long-term psychological harm. It seems that [Channel 5] has chosen people who are used to standing for long periods. Personally, I couldn’t do it for more than an hour”.
The show only lasted one series on British television (presumably because the viewing figures were not as good as the channel expected). Over at the UK Game Shows website, the overview of the show said:
“Touch the Truck is a typical attempt by people who don’t normally commission [or] make game shows to do a game show. Such people think that game shows should be all about (a) tacky sets and lighting, (b) fabulous prizes, (c) cheesy catchphrases by the bucket-load, (d) real ‘characters’ as contestants. With the prospect of truckers, tonnes of throbbing metal and 20 members of the public who can’t run away, they’ve been able to wheel in Dale Winton, the consummate professional, to try and generate mass hysteria…The programme is more like a documentary on the effects of trying to stay awake as long as possible. People going mad is quite interesting, although there wasn’t as much of that as perhaps the producers were hoping for…Ultimately, the concept lost all credibility on day 2 when the favourite was pulled out of the competition against his own will for ‘medical reasons’ whereas he looked and sounded perfectly fine”.
My own vague recollection was that the show was compelling to watch (I was going to say it was ‘car crash TV’ but it didn’t seem like a good analogy to use), but maybe it was because I knew I was going to be asked to make comments on it by the media.
Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Driving test not a mini marathon: A psychologist’s view. Nottingham Evening Post, March 22, p.19.
UK Game Shows (2013). Touch the Truck. Located at: http://www.ukgameshows.com/ukgs/Touch_the_Truck
Wikipedia (2013). Hands on a Hardbody. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hands_on_a_Hardbody
Wikipedia (2013). Touch the truck. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Touch_the_Truck
In 1964, the comic actor Peter Sellers had a series of eight rapid heart attacks after which his heart stopped beating and he was pronounced clinically dead. Thankfully, the doctor successfully brought Sellers back from the brink of death by vigorous heart massage. However, what is not so well known was that Sellers said that while all this was happening, he rose out of his body, and reached for a hand in a bright, loving light. As a result of his experience, Sellers claimed that he had lost his fear of death, had become more introspective, and had found tranquility in yoga. However, he still felt “lost” and would spend many discussions with the Reverend John Hester trying to “reconcile the world of plenty he inhabited with the emptiness of soul that oppressed him”.
Twenty years earlier, in 1944, the world-renowned psychiatrist and analytical therapist Carl Jung also had a near death experience. During a heart attack, Jung claimed to have envisioned the earth from over a 1000 miles in space. He claimed that he could see the Arabian deserts and the Himalayas. Hurtling towards him was a meteorite in the shape of a Hindu temple that was surrounded by a wreath of flashing bright lights. Jung felt the temple held the answers to all life’s most important questions. Before he could enter the temple, a spirit who was to die in his place called him back to earth.
The cases of Peter Sellers and Carl Jung may seem very strange but they are not untypical examples of a near death experience (NDE). NDEs are fairly widespread and the scientific study of them has been a growing research area over the last three decades. It has been claimed that with the increased amount of medical technology such as resuscitation techniques, that the number of people experiencing NDEs is on the increase (also check out my previous blog on Lazarus Syndrome – people that have seemingly come back to life after being pronounced dead).
The medic and philosopher, Raymond Moody, coined the term “near death experience” and says that one of the most asked questions that we as humans ask is “What happens when people die?” Do we simply cease to live or do we go onto something else leaving our mortal remains behind? Without getting into heavy philosophical and theological debates, it is clear that research into NDEs can perhaps help us to understand more about our own mortality and what happens when we die.
There are very few reports on how widespread NDEs are. In 1982, a survey by the pollster George Gallup Jr. reported that 15% of all Americans (23 million people) had experienced a “close brush with death” and that about 8 million had an NDE (about one in twenty people). A 1990 survey by Gallup reinforced his original findings with 12% of people reporting that they had been on the verge of death or had a close call involving an unusual experience.
There has been a lot of research into whether particular types of people are more susceptible to NDEs. Unfortunately, very few consistent findings have been found. It seems that almost anyone can experience NDEs. In fact, it has been reported that factors such as age, social class, race, and marital status have little (if any) influence on NDEs. Other factors that have been found to have little influence on NDEs include religious belief, prior knowledge of NDEs, and whether or not the person has a terminal illness.
However, research appears to suggest that the type of death may influence the type of NDE. For instance, those involved in car accidents and other ‘sudden’ events tend to report more cognitive experiences such as a ‘life review’ where the person’s life flashes before their eyes. One factor that may make a person more likely to experience NDEs is a history of abuse or trauma. The psychologist Kenneth Ring (University of Connecticut) says that these individuals are more likely to dissociate from a painful reality and tune into other realities to feel safe. The Seattle-based pediatrician Melvin Morse has even reported an in-depth study of children showing that they too can experience NDEs in his 1990 book Closer to the Light: Learning from the Near Death Experiences of Children.
The original pioneering academic study of NDEs has been attributed to the American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who wrote the influential book On Death and Dying in 1969. In her book, she recorded many accounts of NDEs and “out of body travel” from her terminally ill patients and formulated the five classic stages of grieving (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance). She also reported that her patients often spoke to people who had preceded them in death, and that after death most of their faces became very peaceful.
In 1975, the first book to bring NDEs to mass public attention was Life After Life, a study of 150 cases written by Raymond Moody, and in 1988 wrote the follow-up best seller, The Light Beyond. In 1980, further research by the psychologist Kenneth Ring published in his book Life At Death concluded that NDEs consist of up to five stages. Based on an in-depth study of 102 cases, Ring reported that most people who have NDEs will experience the first stage but that very few reach the final one. His stages included peace (60%), body separation (37%), entering the darkness (23%), seeing the Light 16%), and entering the Light (10%). As with most areas, there are other typologies of NDEs that have been developed. For instance, the psychiatrist Bruce Greyson (University of Virginia) claimed that NDEs consisted of four different types – cognitive, affective, paranormal, and transcendental.
- Cognitive: These experiences involve thought process alterations, such as time shifts, life review and sudden understanding. These tend to occur with unexpected brushes with death rather than anticipated ones such as those with a terminal illness.
- Affective: These experiences involve peace, joy, painlessness, cosmic unity and encounters with a loving being of Light.
- Paranormal: These experiences involve out-of-body travel, precognitive visions, extra-sensory perception, and hyper-acute physical senses.
- Transcendental: These involve travel to an unearthly realm, encounters with a mystical being, visible spirits of deceased or religious figures, and a final point of no return.
It is also clear that not all NDEs are positive. Although most of the case studies reported by Raymond Moody were uplifting, a small proportion of the Gallup poll (about 1%) described their NDEs as “hell” or “tormenting”. As a result of more recent research, Bruce Greyson, and Nancy Bush refined the typology to include those who experienced more negative effects. As a result, it has been reported that there are three fundamentally different types of distressing NDEs: (i) prototypical NDEs with a tunnel and a bright Light, but experienced as terrifying, (ii) NDEs that had a sense of non-existence, eternal void or absurdity, and (iii) NDEs which features classical hellish imagery of tormenting demons and agonizing pain.
Thankfully, most people who have NDEs appear to have positive after-effects as a result of their experience. In his research, Kenneth Ring reports that survivors typically feel a heightened appreciation of life, a sense of personal renewal and a search for purpose, increased confidence, compassion, empathy, tolerance and understanding. At the core of most of these experiences is some kind of spiritual reawakening – although this is not necessarily religious. Life comes to be viewed as a precious gift. Scientific research also indicates that those who have NDEs show significant increases in psychic experiences. In fact, the more a person has, the more psychic experiences they have. Such experiences include precognitive awareness of incoming phone calls, and middle-of-the-night visits by recently deceased loved ones. Recent research suggests that transcendental near-death experiences show some cross-cultural variation that suggests they may be influenced by societal beliefs.
Some scientists are adamant that NDEs can wholly be explained by biological phenomena. For instance, the neurologist Ernst Rodin claims that a lack of oxygen supply to the brain (known as cerebral anoxia) causes delusions and hallucinations, and is a possible cause of NDEs. The London-based psychiatrist Karl Jansen and his colleague the endocrinologist Daniel Carr maintain that the body’s own morphine like substances (endorphins) increase before death and produce the feelings of calm and peacefulness reported by many who undergo NDEs. The neurologist Michael Persinger argues that temporal lobe brain activity and instability above the right ear is responsible for the deep meaningfulness, early memories and out-of-body experiences. The psychologist Susan Blackmore adds to this theory and argues that instability of the temporal lobe is also responsible for paranormal and mystical experiences. She also claims that the “Light at the end of the dark tunnel” experiences are optical illusions created by the effects of anoxia and drugs in which random light spots radiate from the centre of a dark internal visual field (also known as cortical disinhibition). Blackmore also believes that out-of-body experiences are drug-induced illusions as these are common experiences for people who use the drug ketamine recreationally. However, nearly all of these theories are at best only part explanations as none of them can fully explain all NDE accounts.
There are many psychological theories that have been forwarded as an explanation for NDEs. These range from historically based Freudian and Jungian theories through to more contemporary cognitive explanations. An early psychiatric explanation claimed that NDEs were linked with theories of depersonalization that “defend” the nervous system from the mental disorganization during the death crisis. Other psychologists claimed that depersonalization produces an altered passage of time, vivid and accelerated thoughts, a sense of detachment, unreality, automatic movements, and revival of memories. Some psychiatrists such as Ronald Siegal claim that NDEs are simply hallucinations (albeit very ordered ones) whereas some psychoanalysts claim that NDEs are a denial of death – a hallucinatory wish fulfillment defending the ego from its impending annihilation.
Other psychoanalysts claim that ‘birth trauma’ is the root of all neuroses and therefore explain NDEs as a regression to infantile object relations with the dark tunnel as the mother’s birth canal and the bright light as the mother’s radiant face. The famous cosmologist Carl Sagan saw some merit in this idea and proposed that people who have NDEs are reliving their descent down the birth canal. However, this has not been without its critics. On the technical side, it has been argued that infants descending down the birth canal not only have their eyes closed but their brains are too underdeveloped to allow memories of birth. The psychologist Susan Blackmore has also pointed out that that those born by Caesarian section are equally as likely as those born naturally to have NDEs that feature tunnels and out-of-body experiences! A theory by the psychologist Susan Blackwell claims that the human mind creates various mental models of reality based on its experiences, and the most stable one wins out as the favoured version. She claims that NDEs occur when the mind is in crisis and makes up models of reality such as out-of-body experiences, imagining the mind to be floating up above the body.
Whatever the explanation for NDEs, study of them from them is clearly an interesting area for both academics and the public alike. Whether the explanations are biologically, psychologically, or spiritually defined, it will not stop the growth of scientific research in this fascinating area.
Athappilly, G.K., Greyson, B. & Stevenson, I. (2006). Do Prevailing Societal Models Influence Reports of Near-Death Experiences? A Comparison of Accounts Reported Before and After 1975.Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 194, 218-224.
Belanti, J., Perera, M. & Jagadheesan, K. (2008). Phenomenology of near-death experiences: A cross-cultural perspective. Transcultural Psychiatry, 45, 121–133.
Blackmore, S. (1996). Near death experiences. Journal of Royal Society of Medicine, 89, 73-76
Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death And Dying. New York: MacMillan
Moody, R. (1975). Life After Life. New York: Bantam/Mocking bird.
Moody, R. (1988). The Light Beyond. New York: Bantam/Mocking bird.
Morse, M. & Perry, P.J (1991). Closer To The Light: Learning From The Near-Death Experiences Of Children. London: G.K. Hall.
Ring, K. (1980). Life At Death. New York: William Morrow Co.