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Study of NDEs in Belgium looks for patterns and similarities

NEW research into near-death experiences (NDEs), conducted in Belgium, analyses people’s personal stories in an effort to shed new light on a phenomenon that appears to be more common than originally thought, but still divides scientific opinions.

The results, published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience in July, focus on some of the well-known “very rich and detailed features” reported, such as a bright light, a feeling of peace, out-of-body experiences and perceiving a tunnel.

The question the team of six sought to answer was: do people tend to experience the different phenomena in a certain sequential order?

To do so, they collected and analysed written accounts from 154 individuals who reported NDEs. “To the best of our knowledge, no study has formally and rigorously investigated whether NDE features follow a fixed order or distribution,” says Charlotte Martial of the University of Liège and University Hospital of Liège, the lead author.

They found that, on average, a person experiences about four different phenomena during an NDE. A feeling of peacefulness (80% of participants), seeing a bright light (69%) and encountering spirits/people (64%) were the most common. The two most uncommon experiences were speeding thoughts (5%) and precognitive visions (4%).

The study also revealed that a third of the subjects (35%) reported an out-of-body experience as the first feature of their NDE, and that the most frequent last feature was returning to the body (36%).

“This suggests that near-death experiences seem to be regularly triggered by a sense of detachment from the physical body and end when returning to one’s body,” Martial writes, adding:

“Our findings suggest that NDEs may not feature all elements, and elements do not seem to appear in a fixed order. While NDEs may have a universal character so that they may exhibit enough common features to belong to the same phenomenon, we nevertheless observed a temporal variability within the distribution of reported features.”

Martial and her colleagues hope that exploring how the different phenomena relate to each other may lead to a more rigorous definition and better scientific understanding of near-death experiences as a whole.

On average, a person experiences about four different phenomena during an NDE

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