An illustration of a body rising into a UFO on a beam of light.

Richard J. McNally, PhD shared the results on a limited research study awaiting publication in Journal of Experimental Psychopathology titled “Explaining ‘Memories’ of Space Alien Abduction and Past Lives: An Experimental Psychopathology Approach.” He and his team identified five (5) personality traits among “experiencers,” people who were supposedly abducted by extraterrestrial lifeforms. Although they could not confirm or ascertain whether all or most traits needed to be present, McNally felt that any experiencer would exhibit at least one trait. The traits were: 1. Affliction of sleep paralysis accompanied with hallucinations upon waking; 2. Ability to recall false memories; 3. Prone to high levels of Absorption; 4. Believing in New Age ideology; and 5. Extensive knowledge of other experiencer stories. After reading the notes given at an address before the World Behavioral & Cognitive Therapies in Boston, Mass., June 4, 2010, I can attest that the study was by far too limited and deeply biased.

5 Traits

  1. Sleep Paralysis Followed by Hallucinations upon Waking. The researchers collected stories from participants who experienced sleep paralysis and began to hallucinate. Sleep paralysis is the inability to move limbs while one is conscious. It causes anxiety. The researchers found that the experiencers would begin to hallucinate seeing lights and feeling sensations.
  2. Recall False Memories. Researchers conducted memory recovery sessions with experiencers. At these times, leading questions were utilized to elicit narratives. Some of the stories were not authentic. False Memory Syndrome (FMS) is when pseudo-memories of traumatic events are proffered as possible real-life events. People who are highly susceptible are at risk of turning the suggestion into a false memory.
  3. High Levels of Absorption. Absorption is a term used for people who are prone to fantastical thinking and vivid imagery. They are highly susceptible and embellish stories.
  4. Belief in the New Age Movement. The New Age Movement encompasses a lot of different thinking and activities. Among the most popular are fortune telling; tarot card readings; alternative medicine; astrology; and belief in ghosts.
  5. Extensive Knowledge of Past Abduction Stories. The study claims that most experiencers knew a lot about other alien abduction stories and histories.

The author premised that the participants, 10 in all, appeared sane yet sincerely believed that they were abducted by extraterrestrials.

While the traits may be used to classify types of experiencers, it falls flat in execution. There were 10 experiencers involved in the study. There simply were not enough participants.

Next, the author was clear that there was not one magic combination of traits to identity an experiencer. Whew, because I can identify with 3 and can attest that I’ve never been abducted. Therefore, this is not a foolproof classification system.

While administering the memory recovery sessions, the author shared an anecdotal story on how it was difficult to record short narratives because the team kept laughing. None on the team seemed open to the idea of alien abductions. They conducted the research already settling on the outcome. This is a major error in academic research.

Finally, since the researchers had already passed judgement and deemed these stories false, there was no way established to verify if they could have happened. The author flat out states that no serious professional would believe alien abductions occur; therefore, he was conducting research to find out why people who looked sane were, in fact, not. That’s not research, my friend.

However, a facet of the research may be able to shed light on experiencers and their abduction stories. More research should be conducted in sleep paralysis. Memory recovery sessions should be conducted by professionals who are not biased or use leading questions. There is much to learn from the 10+ years since McNally addressed his peers. Let’s ensure it’s constructed with proper protocols that include cross-discipline researchers. And maybe, just maybe, look toward the successful academics who have come out stating their belief that we are not alone.