Studies suggest that neuropsychological theories, particularly sleep paralysis and temporal lobe sensitivity, also could explain claims of alien abduction.
Sleep paralysis is a feeling of being conscious but unable to move, which occurs when a person passes between stages of wakefulness and sleep.
Experiencers’ claims share characteristics with sleep paralysis: a sense of being awake, not dreaming, and realistic perceptions of the environment. The inability to move, a feeling of fear or dread, and the sense of another presence – perhaps evil or malevolent – are common symptoms. Also common are a feeling of pressure on the chest and difficulty breathing, and of being held or restricted to a lying position: most sleep paralysis attacks occur while the individual is lying on their back.
Sceptic Michael Shermer once collapsed from sleep deprivation following an 83-hour bike race and his support team rushed to his aid. Shermer was caught in a “waking dream” and so perceived them as aliens from the 1960s television series The Invaders. It also explains some ghost sightings, such as the “night hag”, often experienced by those who suffer from sleep paralysis.
Temporal lobe sensitivity is a theory that suggests the temporal lobes of some people’s brains are more vulnerable to influence from low-level magnetic frequencies. Michael Persinger, a neuroscientist at Laurentian University in Canada, is among those who believes that increased temporal lobe activity can explain paranormal experiences such as alien abduction. His theory is that magnetic fields stimulate the temporal lobes, resulting in hallucinatory experiences similar to those reported by alien abductees.
None of this is to say that many people who believe they have experienced alien abduction are liars, merely that their accounts and experiences can be explained through recourse to theories with a scientific basis. There are many logical, plausible scientific explanations, none of which rely upon the existence of aliens. However, it should also be noted that not all reported alien abduction experiences can be easily explained by any of these scientific theories – and this throws up many more questions.
Ken Drinkwater, Lecturer and Researcher in Cognitive and Parapsychology, Manchester Metropolitan University and Neil Dagnall, Reader in Applied Cognitive Psychology, Manchester Metropolitan University