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Does Personality Affect a Near Death Experience ?

Near Death Experiences Series, Article 6 (Reviewed by the Editorial Board)

Many research studies have been carried out to see whether there is a relationship between a particular type of personality and having a near death experience. In other words, whether certain people had a predisposition to having the experience.  One of the difficulties in these studies has been that they are all retrospective. Those having had a near death experience were interviewed after their experience and so researchers cannot be certain whether psychological characteristics they found pre-existed the NDE or developed after it.

In one study a comparison was made between people who had had an NDE and people who had not, as regards IQ levels, an extroverted personality, a neurotic personality and anxiety. No significant differences were found. In another study researchers found no difference in measures of hysterical tendencies, death anxiety, danger seeking and psychotic personality.

Other studies had suggested that there might be an increased likelihood of prior mystical experiences in those who had a near death experience. This was interesting, although there might possibly be a limitation associated with these studies in that they had involved somewhat biased samples of people. Essentially the people used in the studies had volunteered their experiences and therefore may have represented a specific group of people who were more likely to have had prior mystical experiences and therefore more likely to volunteer them to investigators. It wasn’t clear whether the reason for the difference was simply that people without prior mystical experiences were less likely to come forward.

Ring and Rosing (1990)1 found a higher incidence of childhood physical, psychological or sexual abuse and neglect or a negative home atmosphere, among those subjects who had had a near death experience. They, and other workers, have also raised the possibility this group may be more prone to dissociation, defined by Greyson (2000)2 as “the separation of thoughts feelings or experiences from the normal stream of consciousness and memory.” Dissociation is a recognized response to trauma. Holden and Greyson (2009)3 however suggest that although traumatic life experiences may facilitate the occurrence of near death experience, they are certainly not preconditions for them.

Many retrospective studies have analyzed the mental health of people who had a near death experience and found they are no more likely to show psychopathology than comparison groups those who have not, although several studies suggest that people with psychiatric disorders tend to report less elaborate near death experiences.

Holden and Greyson conclude that “Though people with certain characteristics might be more prone to report a near death experience during near-death episodes, or to report deeper near death experiences or particular after-effects, research has not yet revealed a characteristic that either guarantees or prohibits the occurrence, incidence, nature or after-effects of a near death experience.”  However there is still the finding that some of those who experience a near death experience do have multiple ones suggesting that if you have had one, you are then more likely to have a second.


(1) Ring K and Rosing CJ. 1990. The Omega Project: An empirical study of the NDE-prone personality. Journal of Near-Death Studies 8:211-39

Greyson B. 2000.  Dissociation in people who have near death experiences: Out of their bodies or out of their minds?  Lancet 355 460-73.

Holden, JM, Greyson B., James D.  2009. The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences  ABC-CLIO, LLC. California.

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