"How common are OBEs?"


Two surveys have used properly balanced samples drawn from specified populations. The first was conducted by Palmer and Dennis [PD75, Pal79b]. They chose the inhabitants of Charlottesville, Virginia, a town of some 35,000 people and selected 1,000 of these as their sample. The question on OBEs was worded as follows: 'Have you ever had an experience in which you felt that "you" were located "outside of" or "away from" your physical body; that is the feeling that your consciousness, mind, or center of awareness was at a different place than your physical body? (If in doubt, please answer "no".)' To this 25% of students and 14% of the townspeople said 'yes.'

Further data from this survey reveals that no relationship between age and reported OBEs was found. Palmer found a significant positive relationship between drug use and OBEs and concluded that this could account for the higher prevalence of OBEs in students. This relationship receives confirmation from work by Tart [Tar71]. In a survey of 150 marijuana users he found that 44% claimed to have OBEs. It seems possible that the use of this drug facilitate OBEs.

The second survey using a properly constructed sample was carried out by Erlendur Haraldsson, an Icelandic researcher, and his colleagues [HGRLJ76]. For the survey a questionnaire was sent to a random sample of 1157 persons between ages of 30 and 70 years. There were 53 questions on various psychic and psi-related experiences including a translation of Palmer's question. To this, only 8% of the Icelanders replied yes.

Table: Surveys of the OBE [Bla82]

Author     Year   Respondents              size of       N         %
                                           sample      'YES'     'YES'

Hart       1954   Sociology students        113          28        25
                  Sociology students         42          14        33

Green      1966   Southampton University
                    students                115          22        19

           1967   Oxford University
                    students                380         131        34

Palmer     1975   Charlottesville
                    Townspeople              -           -         14
                    Students                 -           -         25

Tart       1971   Marijuana users           150          66        44

Haraldsson 1977   Icelanders                 -           -          8

Blackmore  1980   Surrey University
                    students                216          28        13

                  Bristol University
                    students                115          16        14

Irwin      1980   Australian students       177          36        20

Bierman &
Blackmore  1980   Amsterdam students        191          34        18

Kohr       1980   Members of Association
                    for Research and
                    Enlightenment            -           -         50
Those vague statements about OBEs being 'common' are now backed up by a variety of figures. Blackmore gives a personal estimate of the incidence of OBEs, based on all the available evidence, putting it at around 10%. She thinks we can say with more conviction that the OBE is a fairly common experience.

The surveys show that if a person has had one OBE he or she is more likely to have another. All these figures are far higher than you would expect if OBEs were distributed at random in the population.

Green went on to compare different groups to see whether they had had different numbers of OBEs. Her only finding was that OBEers were more likely to report experiences which they thought could only be attributed to ESP. Palmer and Kohr found that subjects who reported one type of 'psychic' or 'psi-related' experience also tended to report others.

Palmer also, like Green, found that many simple variables were irrelevant. Sex, age, race, birth order, political views, religion, religiosity, education, occupation and income were all unrelated to OBEs.

Palmer found significant relationships between OBEs and practising meditation, mystical experiences and, as we have already seen, drug experiences. Palmer had over 100 people reporting one or more OBEs, and asked them various questions about the experience. They were asked whether they had seen their physical body from 'outside' and this was reported for 44% of the experiences and by nearly 60% of the OBEers. Fewer than 20% of experiences involved 'traveling' and fewer than 30% of OBEers reported it. Still fewer reported that they had acquired information by ESP while 'out- of-the-body,' about 14% of people and 5% of experiences, or had appeared as an apparition to someone else (less than 10% or OBEers). These results confirm the findings of the case collections: that few OBEs include all the features of a classical astral projection.

Overall the OBE seemed to have had a highly beneficial effect on its experiencers. Many claimed their fear of death was reduced, and their mental health and social relationships improved. Ninety-five per cent said they would like to have another OBE.


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