June 29, 2004
Harvard psychologist Richard J McNally has published a study of “experiencers” of alien contact in the journal Psychological Science, Vol 15, No. 7, pp. 493-497.
Harvard psychologist Richard J McNally has published a study of “experiencers” of alien contact in the journal Psychological Science. The National Institute of Discovery Science (NIDS) obtained permission to reprint the article:
Click here to read the study at www.nidsci.org [no longer available].
The study, which showed that people who claim to have been abducted by aliens show the same physiological signs of distress shown by people recalling more plausible traumatic events, was previewed a year ago; see archived press reports by clicking here.
Colm Kelleher, Ph.D., a research scientist at NIDS, notes:
“The journal Psychological Science is one of the more prestigious journals in psychology and is also one of the flagship journals of the American Psychological Society. It is read by thousandsof professional and research psychologists worldwide. Cumulatively Psychological Science readers hold tens of millions of dollars in research grants from NIMH and other grant giving bodies.”
“My hunch is that the data in this paper will surprise many Psychological Science readers in the psychology research community, since it greatly undermines their common perception that abductees are merely attention seekers, charlatans etc who want nothing more than to get their 15 minutes of fame. The data in Dr McNally’s paper are saying that the responses of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) victims and abductees are almost indistinguishable and will therefore demolish some commonly-held stereotypes. I believe that Dr MacNally’s paper may stimulate members of the psychological research community to take the next research step: to use the tools of fMRI and other brain-imaging techniques to take these (to their readers, very surprising) data to the next level. That is precisely what is needed in this field.”
“As such, I believe Dr McNally’s paper is a positive contribution.”
Dr McNally’s interpretation of his data, which relies upon his opinion that alien encounters are not real events, is said to have been criticized by colleagues at Harvard’s 2003 Mind/Brain/Behavior Junior Symposium “Schizophrenia, Dreams, and Alien Encounters”, who noted that his data just as easily supported the theory that the encounters were real.
McNally explained his position to the Harvard Crimson in 2003. “The core findings of this study underscore the power of emotional belief. If you genuinely believe to have been traumatized—even by an alien abduction, which we think is clearly fanciful—you show the psycho-physiological profile of those who have been.”
McNally’s paper concludes by cautioning that “the physiological markers of emotion that accompany recollection of a memory cannot be taken as evidence of the memory’s authenticity,” while simultaneously noting that “one should not conclude that PTSD patients are reporting false memories of trauma” in the case of “more conventional and verifiable” traumatic memories.
William Bueché, communications director for the John E Mack Institute, told the Harvard Crimson in 2003 that McNally’s study is “a significant landmark in alien encounter research,” but criticized what he called McNally’s “leap of faith.” “McNally assumes that the alien encounters are just beliefs,” Bueché said, “but that’s not clear-cut.”
Harvard psychiatrist Dr John Mack, whose clinical interviews with more than 200 “experiencers” led him to conclude that prosaic explanations were insufficient to account for the phenomenon, argues “The claim (made to argue from an apriori position that this can’t be real) that people can cook up a genuine traumatic physiological state by simply imagining something that bears no actual relation to their experience goes against all our clinical knowledge accumulated over centuries.”
A Discover magazine article endorsing McNally’s interpretation is expected next month.
 Reporters and audio recording devices were prohibited from Harvard’s 2003 Mind/Brain/Behavior Junior Symposium in order to facilitate more candid discussion of this subject.