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Sleepwalking and spontaneous parapsychological experiences: a research note.

There is a long tradition of the association between dissociative experiences and parapsychological experiences (e.g., Alvarado, 1998; Gauld, 1992). Recently, this association has been strengthened through studies linking psi experiences with scores on standardized measures of dissociative experiences (e.g., Pekala, Kumar, & Marcano, 1995; Richards, 1991). Another way of studying the relationship between parapsychological experiences and dissociation is by attempting to associate psi experiences with specific dissociative experiences that sometimes are not included in widely used dissociation scales. (For a review of dissociation scales, see Steinberg, 1996). One such experience sometimes included in discussions of dissociative phenomena is sleepwalking, or somnambulism (e.g., Putnam, 1989, pp. 17-19; on sleepwalking, see American Psychiatric Association, 1994, pp. 587-591). In the work briefly reported here it was predicted that participants who claimed to have had sleepwalking experiences would show higher frequencies of parapsychological experiences than participants who did not claim to have had sleepwalking experiences. Further methodological details appear in a previous publication that explores other aspects of the databases (Alvarado & Zingrone, 1997).

Two studies were conducted in which a questionnaire in Spanish with a true and false response format was used. It included, among other items, five questions about parapsychological experiences (waking ESP, dream ESP, apparitions, out-of-body experiences, and auras) and one question about somnambulism as follows: Some people have told me that I have sometimes walked in my sleep. The studies were conducted at the Centro Caribeno de Estudios Postgraduados, a private institute of graduate psychology studies in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In the first study, 120 questionnaires were collected by masters and doctoral degree students taking a graduate psychology course offered by the author. The students collected questionnaires among family, friends, and acquaintances outside the institution. In the second study, 52 questionnaires were collected by a colleague in two of his graduate courses. To measure frequency of psi experiences, an index was formed from the above-mentioned five questions, assigning a score of 1 for true and a score of 0 for false answers.

The composite parapsychological experiences measure produced scores with the following characteristics: Study 1 (N = 120, M = 2.03, Range: 0-5, SD = 1.59); and Study 2 (N = 52, M = 1.48, Range: 0-4, SD = 1.23). The frequency of positive replies to the sleepwalking question was 17 % for Study 1 (N = 119) and 24% for Study 2 (N = 51).

In the first study, those participants who replied affirmatively to the sleepwalking question (N = 20) obtained a mean of parapsychological experiences of 2.60, as compared to a mean of 1.94 for those who replied negatively, (N = 99), t(117) = 1.70, p = .045 (one-tailed), r = .16. In the second study, those with sleepwalking experiences (N = 12) obtained a mean of parapsychological experiences of 2.00, as compared to a mean of 1.28 for those without, N = 39, t(49) = 1.80, p = .039 (one-tailed), r = .25. The combined assessment of the p values in both studies produced a Stouffer z of 2.45, p = .01 (one-tailed). The combined effect size, using a Fisher z transformation (Rosenthal & Rosnow, 1991, p. 498), was .21. The difference between the effect sizes of Study 1 (r = .16) and Study 2 (r = .25) was not significant, z = -.52, p = .603 (two-tailed).

The results support the idea that sleepwalking is related to the frequency of parapsychological experiences. This, in turn, provides further evidence of a low-magnitude association between parapsychological experiences and dissociation. Further work should be conducted using better measures of sleepwalking, probing both for the frequency of experiences and for the stage in the experiencer's life in which sleepwalking took place or was most frequent. Habitual sleepwalkers should also be compared to nonsleepwalkers in future studies. It would also be of interest to expand the search for correlates of parapsychological experiences to other forms of dissociation such as depersonalization experiences, the practice of automatic writing or other motor automatisms, spontaneous trances, conversion symptoms, and the many other experiences that form part of the domain of dissociation. Regarding parapsychological experiences, we may also study the experiences themselves so as to categorize them according to their evidentiality and authenticity. One goal is to find a correlation between dissociation and experiences that seem to be veridical and evidential, another is to correlate dissociation to attributions with no evidence to support them, or to experiences that may be better explained as concidences or that are otherwise conventionally explainable. Further studies could involve interviewing the experiencers, as well as taking the study to the laboratory.

This research was conducted while the author enjoyed a grant from the Institut fur Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene. I am grateful to Nancy L. Zingrone for editorial suggestions that improved this paper.


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Author:Alvarado, Carlos S.
Publication:The Journal of Parapsychology
Date:Dec 1, 1998
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