The Personality Neuroscience of “Paranormal Activity”

The paranormal “visitor” experience is often interpreted through the cultural lens of religion and mysticism. What is perhaps the most interesting is not so much the experience itself, but the people who are having them. It turns out that there are similiar traits shared between the experiences.

1983: Religious and Mystical Experiences as Artifacts of Temporal Lobe Function: A General Hypothesis

“Normal people who are prone to visitor experiences show frequent temporal lobe signs and specific personality characteristics that include enhanced creativity, suggestibility, mild hypo-mania, anxiety, and emotional lability.”

I’ll begin breaking down what these psychological traits mean for those of you who might not be hip on the terminology.

Temporal lobe signs are a type of “focal neurologic sign” that result from an impairment of some area of the brain, in this case – the temporal lobe. Impairments of the temporal lobe classified as “temporal lobe signs” include auditory, sensory and memory impairment such as:

  • Deafness without damage to the structures of the ear, described as cortical deafness
  • Tinnitus, auditory hallucinations
  • Loss of ability to comprehend music or language, described as a sensory aphasia (Wernicke’s aphasia)
  • Amnesia, memory loss (affecting either long- or short-term memory or both)
  • Other memory disturbances, such as déjà vu
  • Complex, multi-modal hallucinations
  • Complex partial seizures (temporal lobe epilepsy)

Okay so now that we have established the behavioral symptomology of temporal lobe impairment as far as it is related to paranormal visitation, let’s look at some of the other psychological traits. We all know what creativity, anxiety, and suggestibility are of course, but what about hypo-mania and emotional lability?

Hypo-mania is a less severe form of “mania”. Something you often find in people who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Mania is a high energy, high positivity state where you feel like you are “on top of the world”. In it’s severe form, it is accompanied by elements of psychoticism or loss of touch with reality. However, because this group of people are from the “normal” population, we can probably assume that their “mild hypomania” is not psychotic, nor is it causing irreperable damage to their life.

Emotional lability is almost always desribed as a combination of emotional instability and over-exageration. People who are emotionally labile for example often burst out in to uncontrollable flights of laughter and crying, or suddenly become very irritabile with a high temper. On top of that the emotion itself is indeed very strong, but is often expressed in a way that is stronger than it actually is i.e. dramatism.

So to summarize then – people with behavioral signs of impairment in the temporal cortex and a larger range of creativity and emotional expression over-all (Think of a much shallower version of bipolar disorder for example) are the MOST likely to experience some kind of paranormal “visitation”.

Remember that normal people who experience this aren’t so labile that they would be diagnosed but do in fact have a depth of emotion and creativity that is not present within the rest of the population.

I would hypothesize that they are also high in personality trait “opennness” and “neuroticism” as well as hypnotizability, which is correlated with suggestibility.

“Most common personal precipitants for intense visitor experiences include psychological depression, personal (existential) stress and proximal exposure to the focal tectonic strain fields that accompany luminous phenomena. Possible neuropsychological mechanisms are discussed.”

You can look at this quotation multiple ways – “believers” may choose to see it like this: “well paranormal entities might want to help us out when we are feeling depressed or anxious about our existence so no wonder they would show up then”, whereas skeptics may see it as a complex evolutionary adaptation taking place within the imagination, in order to prevent suicide by providing a source of transcendental meaning to the believer.

I find the “focal tectonic strain field” aspect so neat, because it provides a much needed link between the physical and “psycho-spirtual” world – which all too often end up needlessly detached from one another.. There is no real reason why they should be. Our brain is physical, so of course it would respond to events in the physical world.

A focal tectonic strain field is an electromagnetic phenomena created from the friction of grinding plates beneath the Earth. Makes sense if you consider emerging theories of consciousness as an electromagnetic field.

So in that case then, there are three ingredients for a paranormal “visitor experience”. 1. A creative, emotionally labile individual 2. experiencing psychological depression and/or existential stress 3. Near the the electromagnetic upwelling produced by a focal tectonic strain field.

The unfortunate aspect of all this however, is that people who experience the most intense forms of visitation are more likely to have been through some kind of traumatic experience in childhood, which has created a preference for those regions of the brain.

“Learning histories that encourage the use of right temporal lobe functions for the consolidation of memory, such as compartmentalization of beliefs or repression due to early sexual abuse, predispose to intense visitor experiences.”

1984 Propensity to Report Paranormal Experiences is Correlated with Temporal Lobe Signs

Here I believe, is where the researchers start expanding their knowledge of the connection between temporal lobe signs, emotional lability and compartial partial epilepsy as all highly correlated with reports of paranormal phenomena.

“These results support the hypothesis that spontaneous paranormal experiences and the psychological components of complex partial (psychomotor) epilepsy may exist along the same continuum of temporal lobe sensitivity.”

In other words the temporal lobe impairment emerges from a sensitivity of the temporal lobe in general. Because it is sensitive in this way, any kind of electromagnetic disturbance like a focal techtonic strain field could trigger an experience such as the ones described previously.

1985 Temporal Lobe Signs and Reports of Subjective Paranormal Experiences in a Normal Population: A Replication

“Correlations (r = 0.50) were found between the numbers of different psi (paranormal) experiences and the numbers of temporal lobe signs within a population of university students (n = 99)”

If you look back at the list of what constitutes a “temporal lobe sign” such as multi-modal hallucinations and dejavu for example it’s not difficult to imagine how they may be reported as “paranormal experience” especially by people who are highly creative and suggestible.

But again you can look at this several ways:

A believer might see the temporal lobe as a “physical gateway” or biological mechanism for communication with another realm. How else could something like this occur for example other then through its enablement via some kind of biological mechanism?

Whereas skeptics may chalk it all up to hallucinations produced by the unconscious mind from people who are prone to hallucinating in the first place. They may then claim that because the individual is “emotionally labile” that they also have a tendency to over-exaggerate.

The nuance here is very important, because you often only get one side of the argument. I feel a responsibility to point out that either perspective is philosophically viable.

Now with that being said – What could settle the argument is whether or not the hallucination informs the individual of some kind of impending event, or something that they would not have been able to know otherwise. Of course then you would have to ask yourself – is the subconscious mind aware of something that we are not, or is there an actual entity communicating with them?

This type of critical thinking may not be available to somebody who has become emotionally labile or particularly hypomanic during their experience, so it could for example result in them misattributing content from the subconscious mind as stemming from another entity or vice versa. It would require further research from a third party who is emotionally unattached to the outcome either way.

“These results support the hypothesis that mystical or paranormal experiences are associated with transient electrical foci within the temporal lobe of the human brain. The repeated occurrence of these experiences within normal individuals may be embedded within a more complex symptomatology of temporal lobe signs.”

1985 Geophysical variables and behavior: XXII. The tectonogenic strain continuum of unusual events

“The conspicuous overlaps between (non-convulsive) complex partial epilepsy and many episodes of poltergeists and haunts are expected in light of the direct stimulation of the observer’s brain by the transient, intense magnetic fields and the lability of temporal lobe structures.”

In other words the type of seizures they are talking about are not like ones we are familiar with They do not result in the type of convulsive shaking you see in typical epilepsy for example. They are localized to the temporal lobe, and are correlated with temporal lobe signs such as hallucinations and dejavu.

What is perhaps the most interesting is their wide-spanning presence across nearly all types of paranormal activity for example, even poltergeists – which are often seen as the most distruptive and obvious externalized form of paranormal activity. In fact microseizures within the temporal cortex are the closest thing we have to a unified theory of paranormal activity.

1988 Increased geomagnetic activity and the occurrence of bereavement hallucinations: Evidence for melatonin-mediated microseizuring in the temporal lobe?

This scientific article begins to explain the connection between geomagnetic activity, temporal lobe epilepsy and what are called “bereavement hallucinations” i.e. seeing loved ones who have previously past. These are sometimes referred to as “ghost sightings’

“The days on which the experiences occurred displayed significantly greater (mean increase = 10 gamma) geomagnetic activity compared to the days before or afterwards.” I’ll get in to this in another article, but geomagnetic/electromagnetic activity has been connected to a wide range of other paranormal phenomena as well.

The authors suggested that bereavement apparitions might be facilitated by suppression of melatonin from the increase in geomagnetic activity, which was proven in a later article.

“The Occurrence of These Microseizures Might Be Facilitated by Suppression in Melatonin Levels that Could Accompany Sudden Increases in Geomagnetic Activity.”

Just like proximity to a focal tectonic strain field, people with partial epilepsy in the temporal lobe are more vulnerably to these sudden increases in geomagnetic activity.

“These results suggest that bereavement apparitions are situation-specific hallucinations evoked by microseizures within sensitized temporal lobe structures

1989 Temporal Lobes Signs and Jungian Dimensions of Personality

“These results suggest that bereavement apparitions are situation-specific hallucinations evoked by microseizures within sensitized temporal lobe structures”

“The data arc commensurate with the hypothesis that the relationship between belief in psi phenomena, psi experiences, and specific cognitive styles is derived from a temporal lobe lability factor.”

Continuing this research further, Laurentian University identified the Jungian correlates of temporal lobe indicators. People who are familiar with the MBTI personality test may recognize the terminology.

“People with frequent temporal lobe indicators were more intuitive than sensing and more perceiving than judging”

Very briefly summarized – intuition is all about pattern recognition whereas sensing is about direct perception of sensory information. Therefor people with temporal lobe indicators have a preference for recognizing patterns across sensory information rather then absorbing the information as a single block or cue.

Perceiving and judging should really be renamed “improvisation” and “planning” as that is almost always how they are explained by proponents of MBTI. To be honest, Myers Briggs isn’t the best framework for Jungian psychological type, I’m been working on a better alternative lately.. but this is what is available in the literature.

We can conclude from this then that people who improvise and are also prone to pattern recognition have a tendency to believe in and experience paranormal phenomena. Makes sense if you ask me.

“In the More General Population Temporal Lobe Indicators Were also Weakly Associated with Feeling rather than Thinking” Hmm.. That would explain the “emotional lability” aspect.

The code in MBTI is NFP – intuitive feeling and percieving. They include the personaltiy types INFP and ENFP. However extroversion and introversion do not appear to be associated with temporal lobe indicators.

Because temporal lobe indicators are only “weakly associated with feeling” we can deduce that the personality types INTP and ENTP are slightly less prone but still vulnerable. With that being said, people of this subtype (NFP) are found all throughout art and media so the next finding is no surprise.

“Students who were actively engaged in a drama class also displayed more frequent temporal lobe signs than psychology students”

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