New Research On Out-Of-Body Experiences Suggests They Can Be Transformative and Enriching

Science is only just learning about the impact an out-of-body experience can have on our mental well-being.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | May 13, 2023

A new study published in Psychology of Consciousness suggests there are eight core themes of transformation one is likely to encounter following an out-of-body experience. Out-of-body experiences are those where a person feels they are observing themselves from a location that is different from their physical body.

"Early research tended to associate out-of-body experiences with pathology, and neuroscientific research has sought to explain the experience through certain aberrations in brain function. However, it is important that out-of-body experiences be assessed by their potential fruits rather than by their roots alone," explain Jade Shaw and Sam Gandy, co-authors of the study.

The study was conducted using semi-structured interviews with eight participants, all of whom were recruited via online methods. The respondents were screened to rule out phenomena like visions, lucid dreams, and near-death experiences, which can commonly be mistaken for out-of-body experiences. Only those who met the criteria for spontaneous out-of-body experiences were interviewed and included in the study.

The researchers asked participants a series of questions that were focused on themes related to attitude, personal change, relationships, spiritual beliefs, purpose, and life meaning – all of which were drawn from earlier research on out-of-body experiences and from a larger body of literature examining the alleged transforming powers of transpersonal experiences.

The answers they received pointed to out-of-body experiences being deeply life-enriching experiences, nurturing enduring and novel perspectives on self-identity, reality, and death.

"There was a broad overlap in the transformative after-effects that people associated with the out-of-body experience," said the researchers.

The study found that out-of-body experiences:

  1. Served as a motivational catalyst
  2. Reduced fear of death
  3. Enhanced inner peace
  4. Generated new life perspectives
  5. Increased self-awareness
  6. Cultivated a sense of individuality
  7. Reassessed relationships
  8. Strengthened existing or developed new spiritual beliefs

These eight distinct themes help explain why many people who have experienced out-of-body experiences cite them as landmark events in their lives – or, as some researchers call them, "quantum change experiences."

"Quantum change experiences may be classified as being either mystical or insight oriented, although out-of-body experiences may feature both aspects," say the researchers. "The definition of quantum change suggests that such change may not occur repeatedly, and there may be a limit to the degree of quantum change an individual can experience. This was suggested by the qualitative accounts, with more powerful transformative changes tending to be more commonly ascribed to a single experience or the first few experiences among those with recurring experiences."

Learning to induce out-of-body experiences reliably could enable individuals to fully harness the psychological benefits that are associated with them. Until this piece of the puzzle is solved (in a scientifically validated setting), we may not see out-of-body experiences being used in a clinical setting. If they were to be used, it is probable that they would be employed to treat conditions such as death anxiety.

"The power of out-of-body experiences in transforming fears around death could potentially be harnessed in palliative care contexts or therapeutically with other forms of mental illness linked to death anxiety," suggest the researchers.

And, there is still the question of whether the decrease in fear of death or increase in inner peace following an out-of-body experience is enduring enough for it to be considered therapeutically viable. Here's what the researchers had to say about this:

"Given the sample size and nature of the study, we have to be cautious when making general inferences about the longevity of out-of-body experience after-effects, but qualitative assessments did suggest that the shifts people reported including the decreased fear of death were enduring in the wake of the experience. This shares an overlap with the after-effects of a near-death experience, where a reduction in the fear of death can be sustained far beyond the experience. We hope to shed more light on the degree to which such shifts are sustained in the wake of an out-of-body experience in follow-up longitudinal research."

A full interview with researchers Jade Shaw and Sam Gandy discussing their research can be found here: Can out-of-body experiences improve mental well-being?