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Memory. 2019 Sep;27(8):1122-1129. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2019.1626438. Epub 2019 Jun 12.

A systematic analysis of distressing near-death experience accounts.

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a GIGA Consciousness, GIGA Research Center University of Liège , Liège , Belgium.
b Coma Science Group , University Hospital of Liège , Liège , Belgium.
c Psychology and Neuroscience of Cognition Research Unit , University of Liege , Liège , Belgium.


Near-death experiences (NDEs) are usually associated with positive affect, however, a small proportion are considered distressing. We aimed to look into the proportion of distressing NDEs in a sample of NDE narratives, categorise distressing narratives according to Greyson and Bush's classification (inverse, void or hellish), and compare distressing and "classical" NDEs. Participants wrote down their experience, completed the Memory Characteristics Questionnaire (assessing the phenomenology of memories) and the Greyson scale (characterising content of NDEs). The proportion of suicidal attempts, content and intensity of distressing and classical NDEs were compared using frequentist and Bayesian statistics. Distressing NDEs represent 14% of our sample (n = 123). We identified 8 inverse, 8 hellish and 1 void accounts. The proportion of suicide survivors is higher in distressing NDEs as compared to classical ones. Finally, memories of distressing NDEs appear as phenomenologically detailed as classical ones. Distressing NDEs deserve careful consideration to ensure their integration into experiencers' identity.


Memory Characteristics Questionnaire; Near-death experiences; distressing near-death experiences; phenomenology

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