Background: The life-review experience (LRE) is a most intriguing mental phenomenon that fascinated humans from time immemorial. In LRE one sees vividly a succession of one's own life-events. While reports of LRE are abundant in the medical, psychological and popular literature, not much is known about LRE's cognitive and psychological basis. Moreover, while LRE is known as part of the phenomenology of near-death experience, its manifestation in the general population and in other circumstances is still to be investigated.
Methods: In a first step we studied the phenomenology of LRE by means of in-depth qualitative interview of 7 people who underwent full LRE. In a second step we extracted the main characters of LRE, to develop a questionnaire and an LRE-score that best reflects LRE phenomenology. This questionnaire was then run on 264 participants of diverse ages and backgrounds, and the resulted score was further subjected to statistical analyses.
Results: Qualitative analysis showed the LRE to manifest several subtypes of characteristics in terms of order, continuity, the covered period, extension to the future, valence, emotions, and perspective taking. Quantitative results in the normal population showed normal distribution of the LRE-score over participants.
Conclusion: Re-experiencing one's own life-events, so-called LRE, is a phenomenon with well-defined characteristics, and its subcomponents may be also evident in healthy people. This suggests that a representation of life-events as a continuum exists in the cognitive system, and maybe further expressed in extreme conditions of psychological and physiological stress.
Keywords: Autobiographical memory; Episodic memory; Mental time; Narrative; Near death experience; Scale.
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