Alien abduction: a medical hypothesis

J Am Acad Psychoanal Dyn Psychiatry. Fall 2008;36(3):431-42. doi: 10.1521/jaap.2008.36.3.431.


In response to a new psychological study of persons who believe they have been abducted by space aliens that found that sleep paralysis, a history of being hypnotized, and preoccupation with the paranormal and extraterrestrial were predisposing experiences, I noted that many of the frequently reported particulars of the abduction experience bear more than a passing resemblance to medical-surgical procedures and propose that experience with these may also be contributory. There is the altered state of consciousness, uniformly colored figures with prominent eyes, in a high-tech room under a round bright saucerlike object; there is nakedness, pain and a loss of control while the body's boundaries are being probed; and yet the figures are thought benevolent. No medical-surgical history was apparently taken in the above mentioned study, but psychological laboratory work evaluated false memory formation. I discuss problems in assessing intraoperative awareness and ways in which the medical hypothesis could be elaborated and tested. If physicians are causing this syndrome in a percentage of patients, we should know about it; and persons who feel they have been abducted should be encouraged to inform their surgeons and anesthesiologists without challenging their beliefs.

MeSH terms

  • Culture
  • Delusions* / psychology
  • Extraterrestrial Environment*
  • Humans
  • Memory*
  • Psychoanalytic Theory*