Using virtual reality, volunteers mimicked the near-death phenomenon
THURSDAY, Aug. 23 (HealthDay News) -- European scientists have come close to replicating the mysterious "out-of-body" experience that trauma survivors sometimes report feeling as death nears.
The results of two experiments on healthy volunteers, reported in the Aug. 24 issue of Science, offer what experts call a plausible neurological explanation for these uncanny events.
An "out-of-body" experience is the feeling of corporal detachment and of looking at your own body from some distance, and it may arise when various sensory systems or "modalities" -- vision, touch and the sense of being in your body, called proprioception -- become disconnected under stress.
The new research "shows that the integration of various sensory modalities is important for retaining our sense of where our body is, of where our self is in that body," explained Dr. Kevin Nelson, a leading researcher on near-death phenomena who was not involved in either of the new studies.
Far from being a rare occurrence, the "out-of-body" experience is actually quite common, as Nelson's own work has shown. "In fact, one of 20 people have had 'out-of -body' experiences," said Nelson, who is a neurology professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. "In our study of 55 normal, everyday people, 3 -- about 6 percent -- had had an 'out-of-body 'experience."
Still, it has been tough to fully investigate "out-of-body" experiences, because they are so uncontrolled and spontaneous.
So, in the two Science studies, researchers tried to recreate them for healthy volunteers.
In one case, volunteers in London were equipped with high-tech 3-D goggles with which they viewed a real-time 3-D film of their own bodies, taken from a perspective of about six feet behind them.
At the same time, a researcher used two plastic rods to simul
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