BBC, Feb. 16, 2003
By Jonathan Amos, BBC News Online science staff in Denver
People who claim to have been kidnapped by aliens have a tendency to believe in fantasies and suffer disturbing experiences in their sleep, scientists have found.
But the researchers say “abductees” also believe in their experiences so deeply that they display real stress symptoms similar to those of traumatised battlefield veterans.
The latest research on the “taken” phenomenon was unveiled at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Denver.
“This underscores the power of emotional belief,” Professor Richard McNally, from Harvard University, told the BBC.
“If you genuinely believe you’ve been traumatised and recall these memories, you’ll show the same psycho-physiologic emotional reactions as people who really have been traumatised.”
A group of abductees told the BBC about their experiences on Saturday. One of them said: “I’ve had several encounters with alien craft and I’ve had an alien implant removed from my body.”
It was typical of the stories they all had to relate. It is thought there are about four million Americans who believe they have been abducted by extraterrestrials.
Scientists believe this clearly is not true, so why do abductees believe they have been taken?
Professor McNally has found that many of them share personality traits and sleep disorders.
“Most of them had pre-existing new-age beliefs – they were into bio-energetic therapies, past lives, astral projection, tarot cards, and so on,” he said.
“Second, they have episodes of apparent sleep paralysis accompanied by hallucinations.”
These frightening experiences usually prompted the individuals to visit therapists, who would frequently suggest alien abduction as a cause – an explanation which the abductees readily accepted, he said.
Professor McNally has come up with a rational explanation of alien abduction experiences which was endorsed by other psychologists in Denver. He said the individuals conformed to a “common recipe”.
But the researcher stressed that many of the people really did believe what they were saying.
In laboratory experiments, individuals were asked to relate their experiences. These stories were played back to them and their physical responses recorded.
“When a Vietnam vet has his experiences played back to him in the lab of some combat event, his heart rate goes up and you see an increase in sweating. If you don’t have post-traumatic stress disorder, you don’t react that way.
“The heart-rate responses and sweating responses were at least as great in the alien abductees when they heard their memories of being taken and molested by space aliens and subjected to experiments as those of people with genuine traumatic events.”