Sensed presence as a correlate of sleep paralysis distress, social anxiety and waking state social imagery

Conscious Cogn. 2008 Mar;17(1):49-63. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2007.04.007. Epub 2007 Jun 15.


Isolated sleep paralysis (ISP) is a common parasomnia characterized by an inability to move or speak and often accompanied by hallucinations of a sensed presence nearby. Recent research has linked ISP, and sensed presence more particularly, with social anxiety and other psychopathologies. The present study used a large sample of respondents to an internet questionnaire (N=193) to test whether these associations are due to a general personality factor, affect distress, which is implicated in nightmare suffering and hypothesized to involve dysfunctional social imagery processes. A new measure, ISP distress, was examined in relation to features of ISP experiences, to self-reported psychopathological diagnosis, to scores on the Leibowitz Social Anxiety Scale and to scores on a new questionnaire subscale assessing social imagery in a variety of waking states. Three main results were found: (1) ISP experiences are only weakly associated with a prior diagnosis of mental disorder, (2) sensed presence during ISP is associated preferentially with ISP distress, and (3) ISP distress is associated with dysfunctional social imagery. A general predisposition to affective distress may influence the distress associated with ISP experiences; overly passive social imagery may, in turn, be implicated in this affect distress influence.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Dreams / psychology
  • Female
  • Hallucinations / epidemiology*
  • Hallucinations / psychology
  • Humans
  • Imagination*
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Parasomnias / epidemiology
  • Parasomnias / psychology
  • Phobic Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology
  • Prevalence
  • Sleep Paralysis / epidemiology*
  • Sleep Paralysis / psychology*
  • Social Perception
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology