DOI: 10.14704/nq.2011.9.1.391

Models of the Out-of-Body Experience: A New Multi-Etiological Phenomenological Approach

Vernon M. Neppe


This paper compares several models of out-of-body experience (OBE) leading a new proposed multi-etiological model. Broadly the unitary hypotheses propose several single broad causes and explanations, though each of these recognizes that any specific explanation may not be all encompassing. These are best divided into four groups: Psychological, Brain, Psychopathology, and Experiential. The psychological models of Blackmore (reality distortion), Palmer (body concept) and Irwin (absorption) are followed by the brain empirical descriptions of Penfield, Blanke, and the cerebral explanations of Persinger (vectorial hemsiphericity), Wettach (midbrain near-death experiences), and Nelson (REM-intrusion in near death experiences [NDEs]). Additionally, there is the psychopathological psychiatric perspective, plus the spontaneous and induced OBEs that occur in subjective paranormal experients, which appear phenomenologically quite different. OBE research has generally been based on single questions without detailed qualitative differentiation of the OBE. This creates the erroneous situation of potentially misinterpreting diverse experiences under a single etiological umbrella. Optimally, OBE evaluations require detailed screening for OBEs so that “like” is classified with “like” not “unlike.” The author motivates for a detailed phenomenological analysis model which could accommodate the multiplicity of causes and the different subpopulations. This shifts the model from the unitary etiological hypotheses to Neppe’s Multi-etiological Phenomenological Approach. Detailed phenomenological analyses may demonstrate separate distinct kinds of out-of-body experience and therefore ensure that OBEs are appropriately phenomenologically classified in the context of the population samples being examined. This approach facilitates analyzing form, content, circumstance, and predisposed populations using a predominantly biopsychofamiliosociocultural approach and differentiating five possible legitimate hypothetical groups: 1. subjective paranormal experience (SPE) out-of-body experiences, 2. OBEs in SPE- non-experients who may have psychological experiences, 3. seizure and brain linked OBEs, 4. psychopathology interpreted as OBEs, 5. the non-OBE population.


absorption; cerebral stimulation; déjà vu; near-death experiences; out-of-body experience; reality distortion; seizures

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