The IONS Science Team recently published the results of the study, A Physiological Examination of Perceived Incorporation During Trance, which evaluated neurophysiological measures in trance channels before, during and after channeling sessions. We hypothesized that differences in EEG frequency measures and autonomic nervous system measures (such as heart rate variability, respiration, and electrodermal activity) would be observed between the channeling and non-channeling states.
Channeling has been defined as: “The communication of information to or through a physically embodied human being, from a source that is said to exist on some other level or dimension of reality than the physical as we know it, and that is not from the normal mind (or self) of the channel.” Numerous world cultures believe channeling provides genuine information, and channeling rituals in various forms are regularly conducted in both religious and non-religious contexts. In a recent survey of 899 people in the United States, 19.6% of respondents endorsed that they “Had a non-physical source from a different level or dimension of reality use your body as an instrument for communication.”
Little is known about the physiology of the subjective experience of channeling. Trance channeling can be understood as a form of channeling in which an individual willingly enters degrees of trance-like states of consciousness whereby the channel connects with sources of information that appear to exist outside of their ego-awareness. Trance channels use their body as a “vehicle” for the purported disincarnate “being” to incorporate into and to communicate directly via speaking, writing, or movement.
There is limited scientific information on channeling, what it is, and how it works. This may be due in part to a number of challenges to studying channeling, such as variability in channeling type, information source, and content. One of the most comprehensive works on the topic is by Jon Klimo who describes some of these variable components. For example, he describes many types of subjective channeling experiences:
- Mental – intuitive, telepathy, clairaudience, clairvoyance, clairsentience
- Automatism – a variant of conscious, but which includes kinesthetic expressions of automatic writing, Ouija board movement, or pendulum movement
- Full-trance – purported disincarnate being incorporates into channeler’s body to communicate
- Sleep and dream – channeling occurs during sleep and channeler recalls information
Our objective in this study was to determine whether there were differences in neurophysiological measures in trance channels before, during and after channeling sessions. We included 13 healthy adult trance channels in the study and participants alternated between 5-minute blocks of channeling and no-channeling three times while 64-channel electroencephalography (EEG), electrocardiography (ECG; i.e. heart rate), galvanic skin response (GSR; i.e. skin conductance), and respiration were collected on two separate days. Voice recordings of the same story read in channeling and no-channeling states were also analyzed.
The pre-channeling survey data about demographics, perception of the source, purpose and utility of channeled information reflected previous reports showed that most participants were aware of their experience (rather than in a full trance) and had varying levels of perceived incorporation (i.e. control of their body). The voice analysis showed an increase in voice arousal and power differences when reading during the channeling state versus the no-channeling state. Despite subjective perceptions of distinctly different states, no substantive differences were seen in EEG frequency power, ECG measures, GSR and respiration. Considering the subjective and phenomenological differences observed, future studies should include other measures such as EEG connectivity analyses, fMRI and biomarkers.