Out-of-Body Experiences: Brainy Clues

Man Gets Brain Scan During Out-of-Body Experiences in Scientists' Lab

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 31, 2007

Oct. 31, 2007 -- Scientists may be one step closer to understanding what happens in the brain when someone has an out-of-body experience.

A certain spot in the brain shows increased activity during out-of-body experiences, Belgian researchers report in The New England Journal of Medicine.

That part of the brain is where the angular gyrus, a brain region involved in self-awareness, meets the supramarginal gyrus, a brain area that affects the body's spatial orientation.

The Belgian scientists studied a 63-year-old man who had had an electrode implanted in his brain to treat tinnitus, in which people experience ringing or other unusual sounds in their ears.

Before getting the electrode implanted in his brain, the man had tried other tinnitus treatments, with no success.

The implant was supposed to use electrical stimulation to suppress tinnitus. But that didn't work.

Besides still having tinnitus, the man had out-of-body experiences during the electrical stimulation.

"His perception of disembodiment always involved a location about 50 cm behind his body and off to the left," write the scientists, who included Dirk De Ridder, MD, PhD, of University Hospital Antwerp.

The man didn't have near-death experiences and he couldn't "see" himself from outside his body during his out-of-body experiences, which lasted for an average of 17 seconds.

De Ridder's team stimulated the man's brain via the implanted electrode.

The man pressed a button with his right hand to indicate when his out-of-body experience began. Meanwhile, he got a brain scan using positron emission tomography (PET).

The scientists noticed a spike in activity in the junction of the angular gyrus and the supramarginal gyrus during the man's out-of-body experiences. But the researchers don't claim to understand everything about out-of-body experiences.

For instance, they don't know if the brain behaves differently when people when people have out-of-body sensations during near-death experiences or in other cases that aren't induced by electrical stimulation. And the findings are just a window on brain activity, not what people feel during out-of-body-experiences.

Show Sources

SOURCES: De Ridder, D. The New England Journal of Medicine, Nov. 1, 2007; vol 357: pp 1829-1833. WebMD Medical Reference: "Understanding Tinnitus -- the Basics."

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