Is the near-death experience the same for everyone?

Near-death experience tunnels and spirits
A new study investigates the chronology of near-death experiences.
At a point in time when a person is close to death, a set of vivid psychological experiences can occur. These so-called near-death experiences have been reported for centuries.

The classic near-death experience (NDE) includes bright lights, an overwhelming feeling of peace, out-of-body experiences (OBEs), life review, reduced fear of death, and the perception of being in a long tunnel. NDEs are surprisingly common, affecting an estimated 4 percent of the population, as well as up to 18 percent of cardiac arrest survivors.

Historically, they have been linked to the afterlife and used as evidence of the soul, but, just like any other often-reported phenomenon, scientists are keen to get to the biological bottom of it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there has not been a wealth of research investigating NDEs; the point in time at which they occur make them difficult to pin down in the laboratory.

Recently, Charlotte Martial, from the University of Liège and University Hospital of Liège, both in Belgium, and team set out to get a deeper understanding of the NDE experience. They wanted to discover whether or not people experienced the phenomenon in a similar order. Are NDEs the same for everyone?

This marks the first time that the order of NDEs has been investigated in a scientific manner, according to Martial. She says, “To the best of our knowledge, no study has formally and rigorously investigated whether NDE features follow a fixed order or distribution.”

Martial explains that the aim of their study “was to investigate the frequency distribution of these features, both globally and according to the position of features in narratives, as well as the most frequently reported temporality sequences of the different near-death experience features.”

What do NDEs consist of?

To get an accurate picture of the events that take place in an NDE, the researchers analyzed 154 written accounts of the phenomenon. They collated the types of events, how often they occurred, and in which order.

After analysis, the team found that each NDE involved an average of four different phenomena, the most frequent features of which were:

  • a feeling of peacefulness (experienced by 80 percent of participants)
  • witnessing bright lights (experienced by 69 percent of participants)
  • encountering people or spirits (experienced by 64 percent of participants)

Meanwhile, the least common experiences were experiencing speeding thoughts (felt by 5 percent of participants), and having precognitive visions, or seeing events in the future (felt by 4 percent of participants).


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