Psychological Studies on ET Contact Experiencers
Social Science Theories, Hypotheses and
By Kathleen Marden, BA, MA Edu.
“The abductee group produced remarkably similar symbols which were distinctly different from the symbols produced by the confabulation group. The research scientists concluded that the consistency of symbols seen by the ‘abductee’ group inside alien craft could possibly mean that the reports are true. This important study warrants publication in a prestigious scientific journal, but did not appear as a published article in my research queries.”
False Memory Syndrome
Debunkers claim that UFO experts have widely disseminated misleading information about ET Contact events, whereas sleep paralysis and hypnagogic/hypnopompic hallucinations can explain most nocturnal bedroom ET Contact events. They argue that vulnerable individuals come to suspect they have been abducted after reading books or viewing a movie on the subject. Wanting to recover their repressed memories, they seek out the services of therapists specializing in ET Contact cases. With the aid of hypnosis, debunkers argue, they “obligingly produce the now-standard account of a full-blown alien abduction”. (15) Once confabulated, the false memory is confirmed as a real event in the experiencer’s mind. Thus, a sleep anomaly transforms into a false belief that becomes an obsession needlessly altering one’s feelings of safety and security, as well as the sense of normality.
In an early study by June Parnell and Leo Sprinkle (U of Wyoming, 1991), 225 individuals (over an eighteen year period), participated in completing the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), a screening designed to assess psychopathology, and The Sixteen Personality Factors Test (16PF), an assessment of healthy personality functioning. They ranged from individuals who made no claim of observing a UFO to individuals who reported observing spacecraft or UFO occupants. Some claimed to have been taken aboard a spacecraft, while others claimed to have communicated with UFO occupants. The psychologists were primarily interested in four scales: 1. Scale F on the MMPI measures unusual attitudes, feelings or thoughts. 2. Scale 8 on the MMRI measures divergent thinking, creativity or schizoid tendencies and alienation. 3. Scale 9 on the MMPI measures unstable mood, flight of ideas and psychomotor activity. 4. Factor M on the 16PF scale could indicate tendencies toward fantasy proneness, imaginative thoughts, absent-mindedness or bohemian behavior. Participants who reported UFO and/or occupant sightings scored within the normal range on scale F. However, those who reported communication with ETs had moderately elevated scores. Communicators also received statistically significant scores on scale 8. The psychologists suggested that these elevated scores might be viewed as an endorsement of this more bizarre experience. Both groups scored within the normal range on scale 9. Likewise, Factor M on the 16PF scale revealed that even those who reported occupant sightings and communication with ETs, performed within the normal range on items such as mood stability, psychomotor excitement, bohemian behavior and flight of ideas.
Elizabeth Loftus (U. of Washington) was the first person to introduce the concept of false memory formation in response to a flurry of childhood sexual abuse charges, some of which were caused by suggestion from authority figures, and were not based in reality. False memory syndrome is defined as an experience where people remember events that never happened to them as if they are memories of real events. Because ethics committees prohibit academic psychologists from inducing trauma in test subjects, they are forced to create experiments that attempt to test their hypotheses in a benign environment.
The semantic word association test was developed by James Deese, Henry L. Roediger and Kathleen McDermott (Washington U.) in 1995 to fulfill this need. This test (DRM word memory paradigm) is administered by presenting semantically related word lists (as many as 192 words at a time with 6 critical lures) such as sour, candy, sugar, bitter, good, taste, tooth, nice, honey, soda, chocolate, heart, cake, tart and pie to groups of experimental subjects. The critical lure (sweet) is not presented, but later appears on a word recognition list. The words are generally presented orally, one list at a time, on an audio recording at a rate of one word every three seconds. Participants are then instructed to write down all of the words they recalled hearing on the list. When all six lists have been presented, the participants are distracted with an assignment, such as simple math problems or a short reading assignment followed by questions. Next, they are presented a packet containing the words previously presented and additional words, including the critical lures. They are asked to identify the orally presented words as either “known” to be on the list or “remembered” as having been orally presented. Test subjects who incorrectly recall the critical lures are identified as having developed a false memory for the incorrect word.
Follow-up research in 1997, David A.Gallo, Meredith J.Roberts & John G. Seamon (Wesleyan U.), found that the test could be manipulated to reduce false recall by warning subjects about the presence of false semantically related words. However, it didn’t eliminate false recall altogether. A 1998 study (Seamon, Chun Luo & Gallo) showed that some participants misidentified the critical lure even when presentation speed was manipulated.
Many academic psychologists believe that the process that leads to the misidentification of semantically related words in a laboratory setting might also apply to false memory formation for complex enduring events. False memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus and her colleagues have designed numerous experimental studies in which her participants were induced to recall false memories for an event. For example, in one study they asked test subjects to rate the likelihood that they experienced certain events during their childhood. Two weeks later, they instructed the participants to imagine that they had participated in certain fictitious events using imagination exercises. In one study, twenty-four percent of the participants developed a false memory that the imagined event had occurred. It is interesting to note that 12% of those who did not participate in the imagination exercise also developed a false memory. External suggestions received from others were instrumental in constructing false memories.
In 1996, researchers Saul Kassin and Katherine Kiechel (Williams College), attempted to produce false memories for an enduring event in a compliance experiment with college students. Participants were asked to type the letters they were dictated on a computer, but not to press the ALT key because the computer would crash. A minute after the dictation began, the experimenter caused the computer to crash and feigned distress telling the student that all of the information had been lost. He accused the student of pressing the ALT key. Half of the students were informed by a “witness” that they had been observed pressing the ALT key and the other half were not. Students whose “mistake” was confirmed by a witness were more likely to admit guilt, sign a confession and develop a false memory for the event than students who were not directly observed by the “witness”. Because some students formed a memory for an event that never happened, they were deemed to have developed a false memory for the event, primarily due to social compliance that precipitates false memory formation.
A study at Colgate University by Rinad Beidas, on individual differences in the formation of false memories, found that high suggestibility is not related to the formation of false memories in the Semantic Word Association Test. Students were administered the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scale 2 and the Semantic Word Association Test in order to assess an association between suggestibility and the DRM word memory paradigm. Test results revealed that there was no statistically significant correlation between false recall or false recognition on the Semantic Word Association Test. (16) Beidas also examined whether or not students who produced false memories on an experiment using the Kassin and Kiechel model scored high on the GSS2. A positive correlation was found among participants who confessed to pressing the ALT key, but not for students who denied pressing the ALT key. The Beidas experiment results suggest that both social compliance and suggestibility are factors in the formation of false memories, but that false memories for words and complex events are different entities. (17)
A controversial 2002 false memory study on self reported alien abductees [ET Contact Experiencers] at Harvard University by Susan A. Clancy, Richard J. McNally, Daniel L. Schacter and Mark F. Lenzenweger has been vigorously contested by several researchers from the UFO community. Clancy et al. recruited participants by placing want ads in area newspapers. The experimental group advertisement stated that Harvard University researchers were “seeking people who may have been contacted or abducted by space aliens to participate in a memory study.” The control group advertisement simply stated that Harvard University researchers were “seeking people to participate in a memory study”. (18)
None of the participants met the criteria for ET Contact events such as conscious recall of a close encounter with a UFO and/or alien beings while outside one’s home, multiple witness testimony, confirmed missing time, forensic evidence, consistent hypnotic recall by more than one witness, passing a polygraph exam, etc. The experimental subjects all met the criteria for sleep paralysis and hypnogogic hallucinations and all had been exposed to popular media pertaining to ET Contact events. The test subjects were divided into three groups: 1. recovered memory (11, mean age=47.0) who recovered memories of ET Contact through therapy, hypnosis or spontaneous recall. 2. repressed memory (9, mean age=40.4) who suspected they had been abducted due to insomnia, a strong interest in science fiction, waking up with body marks, etc., but had no recall of an event. 3. control group (13, mean age=46.1) who denied having been abducted. (19)
Clancy and her team hypothesized that the experimental groups would recall a higher percentage of false targets on the DRM word paradigm (discussed above) than the control group, suggesting that they were prone to false recall and false recognition. This hypothesis fell short of statistical significance on false recall but was significant on false recognition. Variables such as the frequency with which rote memorization is used, fatigue, anxiety, and age are all factors in rote memorization. As noted above, the Beidus study suggests that high scores for false recognition and false recall on the DRM may not be an indication of false memory for complex events, such as ET Contact events.
All three groups completed four subjective experiences scales designed to measure PTSD, depressive symptoms, memory lapses, and hypnotic suggestibility; and four schizopypy and schizophrenia screening measures. These screenings indicated that although the experimental groups experienced a slightly higher degree of depressive symptoms and anxiety than the control group, they were for the most part normal, although many exhibited higher levels of creativity, vivid memory formation, open-mindedness toward psi experiences, and the ability to become absorbed in music, a movie or nature, which Clancy et al. interpreted as fantasy proneness.
The researchers hypothesized that the two experimental groups would score higher on the schizotypy screening measures than the control group. Schizotypal behaviors include odd or eccentric behavior, a lack of close friends outside of the family, magical thinking, excessive social anxiety associated with paranoid fears, and odd thinking and speech. (20)
Schizotypal behavior disorder is a mild variant of schizophrenia. Multiple family studies indicate that persons with SBD and schizophrenia have a similar genetic predisposition. Schizotypy falls on the lower end of the continuum and indicates a tendency to exhibit some of the characteristics of the disorder.
The experimental groups scored significantly higher on the Magical Ideation Scale and the Perceptual Aberration Scale than the control group, but not on the Referential Thinking Scale. In order to gain a full understanding of the significance of each group’s performance on these measures, it seems worthwhile to become somewhat familiar with the questions asked.
The Magical Ideation Scale is a thirty question true/false self-reported inventory. It was originally introduced as an indicator of schizotypy but has been found to be indicative of thinking styles found in the normal population. Individuals with high scores on this measure scored significantly higher than control groups on tests for creativity. (21) It lists statements such as:
- Horoscopes are right too often for it to be a coincidence.
- If reincarnation were true, it would explain some unusual experiences I have had.
- I sometimes have a feeling of gaining or losing energy when people look at me or touch me.
- Some people can make me aware of them just by thinking about me. (22)
Those who score in the 0-3 range are considered linear. 4-12 is normal for males and 4-15 is normal for females. All three groups were represented by one more male than female member. Scores above 16 are schizotypal. The Recovered memory group (6 men, 5 women) scored 10.7 (SD: 5.0) – clearly within the normal range. The Repressed Memory Group (5 men, 4 women) scored 11.1 (SD: 5.5) – this indicates that perhaps one subject scored within the schizotypal range, but all others were within the normal range. The control group (7 men, 6 women) did not fall within the normal mean range for men or women. They scored 3.8 (SD 3.5) indicating that some were in the linear group, although others fell within the low normal range. The researchers interpreted this information as a confirmation of their hypothesis. Although the experimenters’ hypothesis was confirmed, the mean score for the two experimental groups fell within the normal range and the mean score for the control group fell below the normal range close to the linear thinking range.
The Perceptual Aberration Scale measures psychotic-like experiences such as body discontinuities and unusual scenery experiences, (e.g. I felt that something outside of my body was part of my body.) (23) On this thirty five question self reporting inventory, the Recovered Memory Group’s mean score was 8.0 (SD: 7.9), The Repressed Memory Group averaged 6.6 (SD: 5.3), and the Control Group averaged 3.1 (SD 2.3). The mean score for this measure varies by racial groups (whites score lower than other racial groups), and gender. White women average 6.7 (SD: 5.86) and white men average 6.64 (SD: 6.23). (24) These findings indicate that although the recovered memory group scored higher than the repressed memory or control groups, they all fell within the average range. The scores confirmed the researchers’ schizotypy hypothesis but did not support the contention that the experimental subjects deviated from the norm.
The Referential Thinking Scale is a thirty four question true/false inventory that measures ideas of reference, e.g., the idea that strangers are talking about you or that songs were written about you. (25) The test results failed to support the research team’s hypothesis that the experimental groups would score measurably higher on this scale.
A critical analysis of the test subjects’ scores reveals that the control group performed below the norm on various measures including the Perceptual Aberration and Magical Ideation Scales. They seemed to be a group of particularly linear thinkers. If this observation is correct, as a group they would be expected to perform better on an orally presented memory test than would non-linear thinkers. We know that these left-brained linear types are auditory thinkers who process information in a sequential, analytical order. They are good rote memorizers, whereas right brained intuitives tend to see the whole picture and are not facile at rote memorization. It appears that the test subjects were two opposite learning style types and this would obviously skew the test results. Therefore, one has to question the validity of Clancy’s conclusions.
Susan Clancy participated in an additional memory distortion research project in 2004 (see “Memory Distortion in People Reporting Abduction by Aliens”, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol. 1, No. 3, 455-461). In 2005, her book Abducted: How people come to believe they were kidnapped by aliens created uproar in the UFO community. In Abducted, Clancy conjectured that those who believe they were abducted by aliens are scientifically naïve and gullible. She states that they create vivid fantasies from a toxic mix of nightmares, culturally available images and media saturation, which are reinforced by unscrupulous hypnotists. She further asserts that they are eccentric, prone to magical thinking, and have a belief in the paranormal.
I will not take the time here to discuss all of the bias, misinformation and misrepresentation in her book, but either she is naive and misinformed regarding ET Contact phenomena or she is biased against the evidence. (See referenced critiques by Friedman, Hopkins, Jacobs & Marden)
An unpublished but highly significant study (2007) by Tamara Lagrandeur, Ph.D. (McGill, Don C, Donderi, Ph.D. (McGill), Stuart Appelle, Ph.D.(SUNY Brockport) and abduction researcher Budd Hopkins (Intruders Foundation), examined whether or not sets of symbols observed inside the alien craft, by some self-reported experiencers, exhibit consistent characteristics. Results were presented at the Association for Psychological Science in Chicago, IL on May 13, 2008. Twelve self-reported experiencers who stated that they had observed symbols aboard an alien craft were interviewed by Budd Hopkins. Each observer drew one or more of the observed symbols, and Hopkins submitted them to the academic psychologists. All symbol information was confidential in order to avoid information contamination. In turn, Stuart Appelle hypnotized a group of twenty-four graduate students and instructed them to imagine and illustrate symbols inside an imaginary alien spacecraft. He then asked the graduate student group to draw the confabulated symbols. The thirty-six symbol sets, representing both groups, were scanned and then photocopied into a common format to ensure that an evaluator could not differentiate between sources. The resulting sheets were assigned a random code number for identification purposes.
Subsequently, Tamara Lagrandeur appointed nineteen McGill University undergraduates to evaluate the symbols for multidimensional similarity. The mean scores for the “confabulation” group and “abductee” group were significantly different on all three dimensions. The experiencer group produced remarkably similar symbols which were distinctly different from the symbols produced by the confabulation group. The research scientists concluded that the consistency of symbols seen by the “abductee” group inside alien craft could possibly mean that the reports are true. (26) This important study warrants publication in a prestigious scientific journal, but did not appear as a published article in my research queries. (In a follow-up study, Dr. Donderi evaluated symbols drawn by Betty Hill in August 2000. He stated that Betty’s symbols were remarkably similar to the ones that had been collected by Budd Hopkins since the mid-1970s.)
The only conclusion we can draw from all of the social research findings is that fantasy prone persons with thin boundaries; individuals who experience dissociative states high on the multiple personality disorder scale; and those who experience certain sleep anomalies (narcolepsy); might believe they have been abducted by aliens, when they have not. If they are hypnotized by authority figures with a personal bias in favor of UFO - ET Contact theory and asked leading questions, or if they firmly believe they have been abducted and have exposure to ET Contact information, they might confabulate an ET Contact experience. Once confabulated in hypnosis, they might have a propensity to believe that a psychological experience is a real ET Contact event. However, the following point is critically important. Responsible researchers and therapists refuse to hypnotize individuals who fall into this category. The primary requirement for hypnosis should be substantial evidence that the experience was not merely a hallucination or fantasy.
Continue Reading Part VI: End Notes, References and Links
This article is published with the expressed written permission of Kathleen Marden for publication on The Alien Jigsaw: alienjigsaw.com