London, Feb. 18: People who believe that they were abducted by aliens are victims of a sleep disorder, an American study suggests. The disorder may also account for visitations by angels, demons and vampires.
A personality profile of “abducted” people showed that almost all suffered from sleep paralysis, a condition in which terrifying sensations and sinister figures from the world of dreams intrude upon the waking brain. They suffered symptoms of post-traumatic stress similar to those of Vietnam veterans.
According to some polls, tens of thousands of Americans claim to have encountered aliens, a phenomenon explored in Steven Spielberg’s television series Taken.
Dr Richard McNally, a psychologist at Harvard University, studied 10 adults who claimed to have been kidnapped by extra-terrestrials. Most were firm believers in tarot cards and astral projection and were prone to fantasy. But, significantly, they had all suffered episodes of sleep paralysis.
During REM, or rapid eye movement sleep, the body is unable to move. About 30 per cent of people suffer from sleep paralysis, from which they wake up and are partially conscious of being paralysed.
Five per cent of people also experience waking hallucinations.
Sufferers can see figures in the room, flashing lights, experience feelings of levitation or simply a sinister presence. Eight of the 10 people who thought they had been abducted had consulted “experts” in recovered memory to find out more about their experiences.
During these sessions they began to recollect more details. Many studies have shown that attempts to recover supposedly lost memories can plant false memories.
Dr McNally said: “When you piece together the New Age beliefs, the hallucinations, the fantasy proneness and get a little help from the memory recovery folks, you have yourself an alien abduction.”
Psychologists have argued that sleep paralysis and hallucinations can explain many paranormal phenomenon.
“In Newfoundland, it’s called being visited by the Old Hag,” said Dr McNally. “In southern United States, it’s being ridden by the witch. In Europe in the Middle Ages, it’s the incubus and succubus. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, it’s space aliens.”