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Title: Finding meaning in out-of-body experiences : an interpretative phenomenological analysis
Author: Wilde, David John
ISNI:       0000 0004 2719 9785
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2012
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History is replete with reports of anomalous experiences. The out-of-body experience (OBE), where the person's self and body are phenomenologically separate, is a relatively common anomalous experience, and has been a topic of scientific psychological research for over a century. OBEs have been reported to occur under a multiplicity of circumstances, however, research has mostly concentrated on OBEs occurring spontaneously, or arising under life-threatening scenarios. Much of this research has focused on either confirming the authenticity of the OBE or determining the underlying processes by which these phenomena may manifest themselves. This research agenda has been largely nomothetic in nature. Yet, traditionally, there exists a third strand of exploration - phenomenological research - which in recent times has been somewhat overlooked in this field of work. In an attempt to redress this shortcoming, I argue for the use of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) as a method of qualitative investigation to address important fundamental research questions posed by the study of OBEs. The aim of this programme of work was to therefore to investigate the lived experience of having an OBE as it occurred in five different circumstances of occurrence, viz., during or near the point of sleep, during meditation, while consuming alcohol or drugs, while feeling physically or psychologically threatened, and as part of a near-death experience. A rationale for including these circumstances and discounting others is provided. To achieve this aim, five studies were conducted. Fifteen participants - three per study - were recruited to take part in recorded, face-to-face, semi-structured interviews. An IPA of the data identified four main clusters of themes across the five studies. One cluster concerned the potential for the OBE to be viewed as an adaptive experience; occurring at times of personal significance and helping individuals cope with difficult life events. A second cluster highlighted the benefits and challenges that experients encountered when sharing their OBEs with other people as part of their sense-making endeavours. A third cluster of themes centred on the embodied nature of the OBE and the attributions and beliefs experients had about the perceived control and mastery they had over their OBEs. Also identified in this theme was the transactive nature of the out-of-body environments themselves, which were seen as meaningful places that facilitated experients' embodied, goal-oriented behaviours. The fourth cluster focused on the abundance of rarely discussed OBE features and the corresponding attribution experients made of some kind of meaning to certain features, many of which were bound to previously held desires and beliefs, and tied in closely with their future anticipations and expectations. The theoretical implications for all of these findings are discussed. By examining in-depth the experience and meaning of these critical life events, IPA research findings can better furnish psychologists and health care professionals with information to further appreciate and understand their clients' OBEs. In turn this may help professionals deal with any potential personality transformations or psycho-spiritual crises that may arise in the wake of an OBE occurrence.
Supervisor: Lea, Martin Sponsor: Bial Foundation ; Portugal ; Parapsychological Association. USA ; Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences ; University of Manchester
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Out-of-Body Experience ; Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis ; Phenomenology ; Qualitative