Neuroimaging – Studies of Psi

The faculty and staff of the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia have been conducting research for many years on a variety of unusual experiences.  We hope to learn more about such experiences, including the characteristics of people who have them and the circumstances in which they have these unusual, extra-ordinary experiences.

Psychophysiological Studies of Altered States of Consciousness and Psi

Ross Dunseath in Lab(2)

Dr. Ross Dunseath, co-director of the Ray Westphal Neuroimaging Lab

The term “psi” as used here denotes various kinds of anomalous interactions, not presently explainable in conventional scientific terms, between human individuals and their environments. Our ongoing research in this area emphasizes the intensive study of individuals who have been carefully selected for possession of various extra-ordinary psychological skills, including in particular advanced meditators, those who can voluntarily control their Out-of-Body experiences, trance mediums, and gifted psi subjects who demonstrate such phenomena as accurate remote viewing and the ability to voluntarily effect observable changes in the physical environment via mental processes. If you feel you possess any or all of abilities described here, please see Contacting Us and provide a brief description of your experiences.

Ed Kelly in his Office (2)

Dr. Edward Kelly, co-director of the Ray Westphal Neuroimaging Lab

Under the co-direction of Dr. Edward Kelly (psychologist & neuroscientist) and Dr. Ross Dunseath (electrical engineer), the Division of Perceptual Studies has established a state-of-the-art EEG research facility.  This facility, known as The Ray Westphal Neuroimaging Laboratory, includes an electromagnetically and acoustically shielded chamber, a high-quality commercial EEG data-acquisition system, and extensive software resources for analysis and modeling of multichannel physiological data. These new resources available to DOPS enable us to engage in a higher intensity, a multifaceted program of research on altered states of consciousness and psi that was originally conceived and partially implemented through the Department of Electrical Engineering at Duke University in North Carolina.


The Ray Westphal Neuroimaging Laboratory at the UVA Division of Perceptual Studies

The updated technology in the The Ray Westphal Neuroimaging Laboratory enables synchronous sampling of up to 128 channels of eeg, together with additional physiological signals and signals derived from specialized sensors of various kinds. Extensive and sophisticated software resources have also been developed by the DOPS researchers for analysis and modeling of the resulting multichannel data.

Altered States Being Studied:

1) Out of Body Experiences

An out-of-body experience (OBE), is an unusal state in which a person is awake, but feels as if they are somehow located out of the body. In this altered state, the person is perceiving the environment from a place outside of the physical body. The study of OBEs has received some research attention from psychologists and parapsychologists in the past. Recent trends in the literature show the prevalence of postulated explanatory models that attempt to reduce the OBE exhaustively to intrapsychic and psychophysiological mechanisms. We propose to study “veridical” OBE cases suggesting that such reductionistic models cannot account for all features of the data. Veridical OBEs are ones involving objective features that can be verified after the experience, such as OBEs in which the experiencer has obtained information beyond his or her sensory range and/or has been seen in a distant location as an apparition at the time of the experience.

We propose to look for new cases of this sort by surveying and interviewing individuals who have shown particular interest in altered states of consciousness by participating in workshops at well-established centers such as The Monoe Institute and Esalen.  We seek to study those highly unusual individuals who can demonstrate excellent control in their ability to enter into an Out of Body state. We are interested in conducting experimental OBE research in our eeg laboratory.

The most promising OBE subjects for our eeg research are those who claim to be able to induce these experiences volitionally, or report having a high frequency of spontaneous OBEs. The study will involve testing these unusual special subjects for veridical OBE perception, and for their ability to be seen as in an apparition-like state by a second observer or group of observers. We will be looking at detailed measurements of their psychophysiology during their OBE experiences.

Existence of veridical OBEs:  Finding these type of cases will allow us to follow up the work of previous researchers such as Hornell Hart, and to confirm the existence of cases challenging the current reductionist view that OBEs are purely hallucinatory phenomena involving no aspects external to the person’s embodied mind.

Evidentiality of veridical OBEs:  Followup of veridical reports will allow us to evaluate the evidential strength of individual cases. This will involve personal as well as distant (phone, email) interviews with the experiencer, relevant witnesses, and other persons involved.

Characteristics of veridical OBEs: We will study the phenomenological profile of veridical OBEs. Both veridical and non-veridical OBE cases will be coded in terms of phenomenological features, and the features of both OBE groups will be statistically compared to each other to look for possible differences.

Characteristics of persons who have veridical OBEs: The experiencers of veridical and non-veridical OBEs will be administered a variety of psychological questionnaires to assess other experiences they may have. Both OBE groups will be compared to each other in order to establish a psychological profile for the veridical experiencer.

 2) Advanced Meditators

The researchers are seeking meditators who have been actively engaged in meditating for 10 years or more. In the advance meditator, we are particularly interested in those who have had unusual physical or mental experiences while meditating, including but not limited to sensations of being out of the body while meditating.

Currently available evidence strongly suggests that deep meditative states are both physiologically distinctive and conducive to unusually strong performance on various kinds of psi tasks (see Kelly & Kelly et al., 2007, Chapter 8; Kelly & Locke, 1981a). Although a number of research groups are now studying the physiology of advanced meditators, and a few are studying their capacity for controlled psi performance, to our knowledge our laboratory is unique in attempting to pursue both of these threads experimentally in the same individuals.

3) Trance Mediums

The researchers are seeking special subjects who can voluntarily enter into an altered state which would be considered ‘trance-like’. In this altered state, the study participant should be able to reliably access evidential and verifiable information regarding facts and personality traits of deceased persons. The researchers will be looking at detailed measurements of the participant’s psychophysiology before, during and after the mediumistic trance state.

Some of the best evidence ever produced for psi phenomena generally, and for post-mortem survival of consciousness in particular, came through a small number of intensively studied deep-trance mediums of the late 19th and early-to-mid-20th centuries. Mediums  such as Mrs. Piper, Mrs. Leonard, “Mrs. Willett” (Mrs. Coombe-Tennant), and Eileen Garrett were studied and written about extensively. In all cases the flow of psi information was strongly coupled to the presence of drastically altered states of consciousness, of generally similar type, about which practically nothing is presently known but which are certainly accessible to deeper investigation using modern psycho-physiological research techniques. Deep-trance mediumship has largely been supplanted in the modern era by highly publicized forms of conscious or light-trance “channeling”, procedures which to our knowledge have produced little in the way of evidence or understanding. The remedy for this, we believe, will be to find, and to study in depth, deep-trance mediums. Based in part on the enormous anthropological literature dealing with trance and possession trance in preliterate societies (Kelly and Locke, 1981/2008; Locke and Kelly, 1985), we feel confident that such unusually gifted persons can be found, and that they share some sort of biologically-based susceptibility to trance that should be accessible to study under both laboratory and field conditions.

4) Psi Subjects

The researchers are seeking persons who are capable of volitional, high-level performance on controlled psi tasks such as Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) and Psycho Kinesis (PK) tasks of various kinds. The central goal of our research with especially gifted psi subjects will be not merely to document the beyond chance psi performance, but to identify psycho-physiological conditions conducive to these unusual states which produce clearly definable results in psi tasks.

Identification of physiological correlates in psi conducive states is highly desirable scientifically, and for a number of important reasons. In the process of correlating psi effects with measurable properties of any other kind we are “normalizing” the paranormal psi events to some degree, and in the context of present-day science anchoring psi to biological correlates is a top priority.  The presence of such physiological correlations can also immediately provide a degree of statistical control over psi activity itself, because one could then go through a long series of trials picking out those in which physiological conditions conducive to success are present, with the expectation that the selected trials will display a higher success rate than the series as a whole. Furthermore, if the physiological conditions conducive to success prove to be of a sort that we can stabilize or induce, for example using biofeedback or meditation procedures, we could have access to experimental controls and to correspondingly increased potential for practical applications of psi skills. Other potential benefits include tracing flows of psi-related information through individual brains, resolution of sometimes vexing ambiguities as to the source of psi effects (most notoriously, as between those participants nominally identified as “subjects” and “experimenters”), and discriminating among various theoretical models of psi.

Volunteering to Become a Study Participant

If you feel that the above descriptions match your experiences in some way, you are over 18, healthy and are interested in volunteering for study participation, please complete this screening questionnaire and someone will contact you if the researchers want to invite you into their current research protocol.