From the Chicago Tribune, 11/1/93: Psychologists find UFO `witnesses' interpret reality in
From the Chicago Tribune, 11/1/93:
Psychologists find UFO `witnesses' interpret reality in different ways
by Amanda Vogt
Tribune Staff Writer
You don't have to believe in UFOs to have a close encounter of the third
kind, but it helps.
That's the conclusion of a new study by Canadian psychologists who
investigated paranormal experiences.
Nicholas Spanos and colleagues at Carleton University in Ottawa found that
what sets UFO sighters apart isn't a lack of intelligence or mental stability,
but different interpretations of reality.
"UFO reporters are not crazy or stupid," Spanos said. "On measures of
psychological health and intelligence, they actually scored as well as the
control groups. On five individual measures, they scored better."
He said all human beings distinguish reality from fantasy in much the same
way. "But beyond that are realms--in the black of night and within the sleep/
dreamscape, for example--that promote ambiguous or unfamiliar sensations and
Moreover, people who believe that we aren't alone in the universe are more
likely to interpret confusing sensory data as encounters with a spacecraft or
extraterrestrial beings, the researches found.
"One man's nightmare is another man's apparition is another man's monster
from outer space," Spanos said.
Spanos and colleagues attempted to evaluate the mental health, intelligence
and paranormal beliefs of 50 people who claimed to have had a UFO encounter or
sighting. They were compared with 127 people who had not.
Night and sleep experiences played a pivotal role in setting the stage for
so-called UFO encounters, the researchers found.
In the study reported in the current edition of the Journal of Abnormal
Psychology, at least 80 percent of the reported UFO contacts or sightings
occurred at night. And more than half of those people who claimed to have
encountered an alien said the experience was sleep-related.
For example, one respondent recalled:
"I went to be and lay down and felt a tickling up my side. I had a flash,
a vision of the following scene. I was standing in the kitchen, and I opened
the door, and there he stood: A tall alien in a blue and black wet suit. He
was skinny, bald, with a narrow head, big eyes and light skin."
Since World War II, reports of unidentified flying objects and the belief
that such objects are the craft of exterrestrial beings have increased
According to the researchers, "UFO sighters tend to be white-collar,
relatively well-educated, representatives of the middle class."
It was on Halloween 55 years ago that Orson Welles in a radio broadcast
inadvertently spooked the nation with his production of H.G. Wells' "The War of
the Worlds." That night, millions of Americans believed Martians were invading
Earth, a widely amplified version of the phenomenon that Spanos is studying.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank