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No. 34: Jul-Aug 1984

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Hostage Hallucinations

"The literature on hallucinatory experiences of hostage victims is reviewed. The phenomenology is examined in 30 case studies involving 31 persons, including exprisoners of war and victims of rape, kidnapping, terrorism, robbery, and 'UFO abductions.' The victims were subjected to conditions of isolation, visual deprivation, restraint on physical movement, physical abuse, and the threat of death. For eight victims, these conditions were sufficient to produce a progression of visual hallucinations from simple geometric images to complex memory images coupled with dissociation. The other 23 victims, subjected to similar conditions but without isolation and life-threatening stress, did not experience hallucinations. The hostage hallucinations are compared to those resulting from sensory deprivation, near fatal accidents, and other states of isolation and stress. A common mechanism of action based on entopic phenomena and CNS (central nervous system) excitation and arousal is suggested."

In a typical case, an 18-year-old female college student was kidnapped and held for ransom. She was bound, blindfolded, and denied food, water, and toilet facilities. She was periodically threatened with death. She saw dull flashes of light in front of her eyes and small animals and insects on the periphery of her visual field. Becoming hypervigilant, she heard strange sounds and whispers. Hearing loud noises, she thought her captors were coming to kill her. It was then her whole life ran off like a slide show before her eyes. The noises were the police coming to rescue her.

(Siegel, Ronald K.; "Hostage Hallucinations," Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 172:264, 1984.)

Comment. Some of the hostages experienced the tunnel hallucination so common in near-death visions. These seemingly 'built-in' or hard-wired images may be related to UFO and sea-serpent phenomena.

From Science Frontiers #34, JUL-AUG 1984. 1984-2000 William R. Corliss