Near-death studies

Near-death studies

Near-death studies is a school of psychology and psychiatry that studies the phenomenology and after-effects of a Near-death experience (NDE).


NDE (Near-death experience)

The NDE is an experience reported by people who have come close to dying in a medical or non-medical setting. According to a Gallup poll approximately eight million Americans claim to have had a near-death experience.[1] Some researchers try to study the postulated role of physiological, psychological and transcendental factors associated with the NDE.[2] These factors come together to form an overall pattern when numerous NDE reports are considered together. It is this pattern that is one of the main objects of interest for Near-Death studies.

Among the general characteristics of an NDE we find: subjective impressions of being outside the physical body; visions of deceased relatives and religious figures; transcendence of ego and spatiotemporal boundaries.[3] Melvin Morse lists nine traits that he believes is characteristic for the Near-death experience: 1) a sense of being dead, 2) a feeling of peace and painlessness, 3) an out-of-body experience, 4) a tunnel experience (the sense of moving up or through a narrow passageway), 5) encountering "People of Light", 6) encountering a "Being of Light", a "force", or a similar figure, 7) being given a "life review", 8) a reluctance to return to life. 9) The experience may also involve after-effects, such as: personality transformation, loss of the fear of death, greater spiritualism, and greater ecological sensitivity.[1] Many of the same traits are also mentioned by other researchers.[4][5]

NDE-researchers have also found that the NDE may not be a uniquely western experience. The core experience seems to be similar across cultures, but the details of the experience (figures, beings, scenery), and the interpretation of the experience, varies a lot from culture to culture, and from individual to individual.[1]

Research - history and background

Contributions to the research on near-death experiences have come from several academic disciplines, among these the disciplines of medicine, psychology and psychiatry. Interest in this field of study was originally spurred by the research of such pioneers as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross [6], Raymond Moody, [6] and George Ritchie. Moody's book Life After Life, which was released in 1975, brought a lot of attention to the topic of NDEs.[1] This was soon to be followed by the establishment of the International Association for Near-death Studies, IANDS, in 1981. IANDS is an international organization that encourages scientific research and education on the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual nature and ramifications of near-death experiences. Among its publications we find the peer-reviewed Journal of Near-Death Studies, and the quarterly newsletter Vital Signs.[7][8] The organization also maintains an archive of near-death case histories for research and study.[9]

Later researchers, such as Bruce Greyson, Kenneth Ring, and Melvin Morse, introduced the study of Near-Death experiences to the academic setting. The medical community has been somewhat reluctant to address the phenomenon of NDEs, and grant money for research has been scarce.[1] However, both Greyson and Ring developed tools that can be used in a clinical setting. Important contributions to the field include the construction of a Weighted Core Experience Index[6] [10][11] in order to measure the depth of the Near-Death experience, and the construction of the Near-death experience scale[6] [11] in order to differentiate between subjects that are more or less likely to have experienced an NDE. This scale is also, according to the author, clinically useful in differentiating NDEs from organic brain syndromes and nonspecific stress responses.[11] The NDE-scale was later found to fit the Rasch rating scale model.[12] Greyson[13] has also brought attention to the near-death experience as a focus of clinical attention, while Morse and colleagues[4][14] have investigated near-death experiences in a pediatric population.

Near-death experiences can have a major impact on the people who have them, and they may produce a variety of after-effects. Many of these effects are associated with changes in personality and outlook on life.[1] Kenneth Ring has identified a consistent set of value and belief changes associated with people who have had a Near-death experience. Among these changes we find: a greater appreciation for life, higher self-esteem, greater compassion for others, a heightened sense of purpose and self-understanding, desire to learn, elevated spirituality, greater ecological sensitivity and planetary concern, a feeling of being more intuitive (sometimes psychic). Changes may also include: increased physical sensitivity; diminished tolerance to light, alcohol, and drugs; a feeling that the brain has been "altered" to encompass more; and a feeling that one is now using the "whole brain" rather than just a small part.[1] However, not all after-effects are beneficial[15] and Greyson[13] describes circumstances where changes in attitudes and behavior can lead to psychosocial and psychospiritual problems.[16] Often the problems have to do with the adjustment to ordinary life in the wake of the NDE.

On September 17, 2008, 25 UK and US hospitals doctors (from Addenbrookes in Cambridge, University Hospital in Birmingham and the Morriston in Swansea, and 9 US hospitals), announced they will examine near-death experiences in 1,500 heart attack patients-survivors. The 3 years research, co-ordinated by Southampton University, will determine if people without heartbeat or brain activity can have "out-of-body experience." Dr. Sam Parnia, an intensive care doctor, heading the research, said: "If you can demonstrate that consciousness continues after the brain switches off, it allows for the possibility that the consciousness is a separate entity. It is unlikely that we will find many cases where this happens, but we have to be open-minded. And if no one sees the pictures, it shows these experiences are illusions or false memories. This is a mystery that we can now subject to scientific study. Contrary to popular perception, death is not a specific moment. It is a process that begins when the heart stops beating, the lungs stop working and the brain ceases functioning - a medical condition termed cardiac arrest. During a cardiac arrest, all three criteria of death are present. There then follows a period of time, which may last from a few seconds to an hour or more, in which emergency medical efforts may succeed in restarting the heart and reversing the dying process. What people experience during this period of cardiac arrest provides a unique window of understanding into what we are all likely to experience during the dying process."[17]

Journal of Near-Death Studies

IANDS also publishes the quarterly Journal of Near-Death Studies, the only scholarly journal in the field. The Journal is cross-disciplinary, is committed to an unbiased exploration of the NDE and related phenomena, and welcomes different theoretical perspectives and interpretations that are based on scientific criteria, such as empirical observation and research.[18]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Mauro, 1992
  2. ^ Parnia S, Waller DG, Yeates R, Fenwick P., 2001
  3. ^ Greyson, 2003
  4. ^ a b Morse M, Conner D, Tyler D., 1985
  5. ^ van Lommel P, van Wees R, Meyers V, Elfferich I., 2001: Table 2.
  6. ^ a b c d Griffith, 2009
  7. ^ IANDS, Informational brochure
  8. ^ IANDS: Vital Signs. Accessed 2011-02-06.
  9. ^ IANDS: NDE Archives. Accessed 2011-02-06.
  10. ^ Ring, 1980
  11. ^ a b c Greyson, 1983
  12. ^ Lange R, Greyson B, Houran J., 2004
  13. ^ a b Greyson, 1997
  14. ^ Morse M, Castillo P, Venecia D, Milstein J, Tyler DC., 1986
  15. ^ Orne RM., 1995
  16. ^ The diagnostic label of "Religious or spiritual problem" is included in DSM-IV under the category of "Other conditions that may be a focus of clinical attention". See American Psychiatric Association (1994) "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders", fourth edition. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association (Code V62.89, Religious or Spiritual Problem).
  17. ^, Study into near-death experiences
  18. ^ IANDS Journal of Near-Death Studies. Accessed 2011-02-06.


  • Greyson, Bruce (1983) The near-death experience scale. Construction, reliability, and validity. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Jun;171(6):369-75.
  • Greyson, Bruce (1997) The near-death experience as a focus of clinical attention. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, May;185(5):327-34.
  • Greyson, Bruce (2003) Near-Death Experiences in a Psychiatric Outpatient Clinic Population. Psychiatric Services, Dec., Vol. 54 No. 12. The American Psychiatric Association
  • Griffith, Linda J. Near-Death Experiences and Psychotherapy. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2009 October; 6(10): 35–42.
  • IANDS. Near-Death Experiences: Is this what happens when we die? Durham: International Association for Near-Death Studies. Informational brochure available at
  • Lange R, Greyson B, Houran J. (2004) A Rasch scaling validation of a 'core' near-death experience. British Journal of Psychology. Volume: 95 Part: 2 Page: 161-177
  • Mauro, James (1992) Bright lights, big mystery. Psychology Today, July 1992
  • Morse M, Conner D, Tyler D. (1985) Near-death experiences in a pediatric population. A preliminary report. American Journal of Diseases of Children, Jun;139(6):595-600.
  • Morse M, Castillo P, Venecia D, Milstein J, Tyler DC. (1986) Childhood near-death experiences. American Journal of Diseases of Children, Nov;140(11):1110-4.
  • Orne RM. (1995) The meaning of survival: the early aftermath of a near-death experience. Research in Nursing & Health. 1995 Jun;18(3):239-47. PubMed abstract PMID 7754094
  • Parnia S, Waller DG, Yeates R, Fenwick P (2001) A qualitative and quantitative study of the incidence, features and aetiology of near death experiences in cardiac arrest survivors. Resuscitation. Feb;48(2):149-56. PubMed abstract PMID 11426476
  • Ring K. (1980) Life at death. A scientific investigation of the near-death experience. New York: Coward McCann and Geoghenan.
  • van Lommel P, van Wees R, Meyers V, Elfferich I. (2001) "Near-Death Experience in Survivors of Cardiac Arrest: A prospective Study in the Netherlands" in The Lancet, December 15; 358(9298):2039-45.

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