PhD paper features in 'out-of-body experiences' journal issue

Hayley Dewe

A special issue of the journal Cognitive Neuropsychiatry explores out-of-body experiences (OBEs) and associated dissociative disorders in self-consciousness, and includes contributions from former director of the Selective Attention and Awareness laboratory Dr Jason Braithwaite, and PhD student Hayley Dewe

The special issue: ‘Out of Body, out of Mind?’ is out now, and features Hayley’s first authored paper titled ‘Uncomfortably numb: new evidence for suppressed emotional reactivity in response to body-threats in those predisposed to sub-clinical dissociative experiences’. 

The paper investigates emotional responses to negative or unpleasant imagery in those showing signs of Depersonalization / Derealization. Depersonalization / Derealization experiences refer to unusual (anomalous) sensations of self-consciousness and embodiment. In these instances, individuals often report feeling emotionally numb, unreal, lifeless and dulled. They experience feelings of disconnection / dissociation from the ‘self’ or the body / world. 

The emotional response to negative imagery was measured via a realistic body-threat task called the ‘Implied Body-Threat Illusion’ (IBT) – which consisted of a fake blood-withdrawal procedure. Anxiety and emotional arousal was recorded via standardised skin conductance responses (electrodermal activity) and body temperature. Findings revealed that those displaying sub-clinical traits of Depersonalization / Derealization experiences displayed an emotional suppression during the IBT task. Namely, the greater the experience of dissociation and emotional numbness of the self / body, the lower the emotional arousal (skin conductance response) to the negative, body-threat. The findings are discussed within accounts for coherent and stable self-consciousness. 

Hayley is a final year PhD student currently researching the neurocognition of anomalous experience in the Selective Attention and Awareness Laboratory in the School of Psychology. 

Paper reference:
Dewe, H., Watson, D. G., & Braithwaite, J. J. (2016). Uncomfortably numb: new evidence for suppressed emotional reactivity in response to body-threats in those predisposed to sub-clinical dissociative experiences. Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, 21, 5, 377 – 401. View paper