Comparison of NDEs Occurring Before and After 1975 Results from a Web Survey of
Near Death Experiencers
A Comparison of NDEs Occurring Before and After 1975
Results from a Web Survey of Near Death Experiencers
Dr. Jeff, M.D.
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ABSTRACT: The 1975 publication of Life after Life (Moody, 1975) led to wide public recognition of near death experience (NDE). No prior study has investigated the similarities and differences of NDEs occurring before and after 1975. Much of the earliest NDE research, in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, would have studied NDEs occurring predominantly before 1975. If the content and aftereffects of NDEs remained constant before and after 1975, this earliest NDE research may be considered applicable to NDEs occurring more recently. This study uses the methodology of an Internet based questionnaire survey which has not been previously reported. A total of 218 NDErs were surveyed. The only statistical differences between the group with NDEs before 1975 (n=48) compared with the group with NDEs during or after 1975 (n=170) were due to expected differences in NDEr age at the time of the NDE, and age currently. No other significant difference was found between these two groups with regard to NDE demographics, experience elements, or aftereffects studied.
KEY WORDS: near-death experience; Moody; 1975; near-death experience changes over time.
Comparison of NDEs Occurring Before and After 1975
Results from a Web Survey of Near Death Experiencers
Jeffrey P. Long, M.D. and Jody A. Long, J.D.
Near death experience (NDE) is a phrase first used by Dr. Raymond Moody in his landmark book “Life after Life” (Moody, 1975). Following publication of this best-selling book in 1975, there was tremendous public and media interest resulting in wide recognition of NDE. It would be of considerable interest to know if NDEs occurring before 1975 differ in any way from those occurring during or after the 1975 publication of “Life after Life.” Identifying significant differences in NDEs occurring before and after 1975 would have implications for NDE research. The earliest NDE research, from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, would have investigated NDEs occurring predominantly before 1975. Today’s NDE research investigates an ever-growing number of NDEs occurring after 1975. If NDE elements remain reasonably constant among NDEs occurring over many decades, extrapolation of older NDE research findings to those experiencing NDEs more recently would be reasonable.
Any retrospective study of the details of NDEs occurring many years ago must rely on the NDErs accurate recollection of their experience. Van Lommel, et. al., recently presented the strongest evidence that details of individual NDE accounts remain consistent between shortly after their occurrence and years later (van Lommel, 2001). This investigation prospectively studied 344 cardiac arrest survivors that included a group of 62 who had a NDE. Careful interviews of NDErs were conducted within several weeks of the NDE, and again at two and eight years later. Although the experience was repeatedly recorded over a span of eight years, the investigators found virtually no change in the details of the experience over time (van Lommel, 2001). This conclusion is certainly consistent with the almost uniform confidence of NDErs in their recollection of the NDE, even if it occurred long ago. Given the preceding, we have reasonable confidence in the validity of recent surveys of NDErs to allow comparison of NDEs occurring before and after 1975.
This study is a retrospective review of data received from an Internet web-based survey. Such a methodology for studying NDE has not been previously reported. To compare NDEs occurring before and after 1975, data from the Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) web site, www.nderf.org, was utilized (Long, 2002). This web site was first published in August 1998. The web site has always contained a detailed questionnaire form for NDErs to share their experiences. The original questionnaire form was modified in February 1999, and remained unchanged from that time (Long, 2002). Contributors give informed consent as the questionnaire introduction and instructions disclose the purpose of the survey, use of material submitted, assurance of confidentiality to the extent requested by the contributors, and lack of compensation for participation in the survey. This questionnaire form contains a section for NDErs to share a narrative of their experience, and asks over 50 questions regarding demographics, experience elements, and aftereffects. Many questions allow a response of “Yes,” “No,” “Uncertain,” and the default response of “No response” (“Y,N,U,NR” questions). A narrative response may be entered following each Y,N,U,NR question. One question asks “Date of experience,” and allows a narrative response. All submissions to the web questionnaire form were entered into a database. A mail-merge document was created allowing review of questionnaire responses merged next to the specific questions asked in the survey form. A single document was created from the combination of all mail-merged survey responses to allow a search of all accounts by key words. For those web survey contributors allowing e-mail contact, NDERF has a policy of e-mailing the contributor a copy of their submission, with a request to review it for accuracy. Both of this study’s investigators reviewed all web questionnaire submissions.
Approximately 50% of all experiences submitted to the www.nderf.org web site met our research definition of NDE as “A lucid experience associated with perceived consciousness apart from the body occurring at the time of actual or threatened imminent death” (Long, 2002). If either investigator made a finding that the submitted experience did not meet this definition, the NDE was excluded from analysis. Consensus of both investigators regarding classification of submitted experiences was achieved for the overwhelming majority of experiences. The NDERF definition of NDE is consistent with the definition utilized by van Lommel:
“We defined NDE as the reported memory of all impressions during a special state of consciousness, including specific elements such as out-of-body experience, pleasant feelings, and seeing a tunnel, a light, deceased relatives, or a life review.” (van Lommel, 2001, p. 2040).
Van Lommel’s definitional component of a “special state of consciousness” is certainly achieved by, and perhaps more narrowly defined, by our definition of NDE. Moreover, van Lommel’s definitional component of “specific elements such as out-of-body experience, pleasant feelings, and seeing a tunnel, a light, deceased relatives, or a life review” is consistent with the experience elements typically encountered in the accounts reviewed for this study.
NDEs occurring before 1975 were compared to NDEs occurring during or after 1975 with regard to demographics, experience elements, and aftereffects. A total of 227 NDEs were submitted on the web questionnaire form from February 1999 to the time of analysis in April 2002. Of these, nine NDEs were excluded from analysis, as they did not provide the year the NDE occurred or multiple NDEs were shared on the questionnaire form preventing clear analysis of a single NDE. The remaining 218 NDEs provided the year the experience occurred and are analyzed in this study. Occasionally, the respondent answered the web survey question “Date of experience” with a range of years, indicating the respondent had some uncertainty regarding the exact year of the experience. The midpoint of the range of years provided was used for analysis. Only one NDE per person was analyzed. Only NDEs contributed by the NDEr personally were included in this study.
Several methods were used to assess the validity of the NDERF web questionnaire. At the end of the web survey, respondents were asked, “Did the questions asked and information you provided accurately and comprehensively describe your experience?” Of 204 NDErs responding to this question (out of the total 227 NDErs responding to the survey), the responses were:
Response Number Percent
“Yes” 163 79.9%
“No” 20 9.8%
“Uncertain” 21 10.3%
The nearly 80% positive response to this question is encouraging regarding the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the information received from this survey. This is especially impressive, as NDE is often considered ineffable.
The validity of the web survey was further assessed by reviewing responses to two similar questions asked in different sections of the questionnaire form. When analyzing the check box question “Did your experience include light?” of all 227 NDEs submitted, 156 (68.7%) answered affirmatively. Later a question was asked “Did you see a light?” Of 215 responding to the question, 144 (67.0%) answered “Yes.” When analyzing the check box question “Did your experience include life review?” of all 227 NDEs submitted, 58 (25.6%) answered affirmatively. Later a question was asked “Did you experience a review of past events in your life?” Of 211 responding to the question, 63 (29.9%) answered “Yes.” The consistency of these responses further suggests the reliability of responses to the web survey.
The 218 NDEs initially analyzed for this study were separated into two groups, one group with the NDE occurring before 1975, and the other group with the NDE occurring during or after 1975. Chi-square analysis of the responses of both groups to 21 Y,N,U,NR questions was performed. These 21 questions included three demographic questions, 12 questions regarding NDE elements, and five questions regarding experience aftereffects. It was noted that many questions had very few “Uncertain” responses, which could reduce the reliability of the chi-square analyses. Thus, chi-square analyses were performed using a 3x3 table with the responses “Yes,” “Uncertain,” and “No” considered, and responses to the same question were also analyzed with a 2x2 table considering only the responses of “Yes” and “No.” Chi-square analyses were also performed on an additional 11 questions that included five demographic questions, one question regarding NDE elements, and four questions regarding experience aftereffects.
Of 218 NDEs reviewed, 48 (22%) occurred before 1975 and 170 (78%) occurred during or after 1975. For NDEs occurring before 1975, the year the NDE occurred ranged from 1943 to 1974, with the average year of NDE occurrence of 1963. For NDEs occurring during or after 1975, the year the NDE occurred ranged from 1975 to 2002, with the average year of NDE occurrence of 1990.
Questions asked for this study are abbreviated in the “Element” column in the table below. The full text of the questions asked is on the www.nderf.org web site (Long, 2002). Fifty-three chi-square analyses were performed, with results shown below. When an exponent (“E” below) is used to express a p value, the exponent is to the 10th power.
Date of Experience (criteria: <1975 vs >=1975) Compared with:
Element Criteria p Value
time of experience <18 vs
>=18 5.25 E-06
Age of experiencer now <40 vs >=40 5.93 E-06
Gender Male vs Female 0.243
Health after experience Excellent vs Good vs Fair vs poor 0.127
Health now Excellent vs Good vs Fair vs Poor 0.298
Experience changes have been Positive vs Mixed vs Disturbing 0.325
Experience changes over time Increase vs Stay about the same vs Decrease 0.835
Religious bckgnd pre experience Liberal vs Moderate vs
Religious bckgnd now Liberal vs Moderate vs
Experience content Wonderful vs Mixed vs
Highest education level <15 vs >=15 0.498
Associated Substances (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.973
Associated Substances (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.907
Difficult to Express (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.270
Difficult to Express (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.197
Threaten Event (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs
Life Threaten Event (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.418
Separation Consciousness (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.118
Separation Consciousness (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.191
Tunnel or Enclosure (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.104
Tunnel or Enclosure (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.200
See A Light (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.745
See A Light (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.835
Other Beings (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.206
Other Beings (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.498
Life Review (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.358
Life Review (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.170
Verifiable Things (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.872
Verifiable Things (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.638
Beautiful Locations/Levels (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.604
Beautiful Locations/Levels (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.320
Altered Space or Time (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.615
Altered Space or Time (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.463
Universe Order/Purpose (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.608
Universe Order/Purpose (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.376
Reach Limiting Structure (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.584
Reach Limiting Structure (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.553
Future Life Events (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.496
Future Life Events (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.800
Decision To Return (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.208
Decision To Return (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.976
Paranormal Gifts (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.787
Paranormal Gifts (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.510
Changed Beliefs (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.089
Changed Beliefs (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.031
Shared NDE With Others (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.656
Shared NDE With Others (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.449
Life change (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.501
Life change (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.250
Anything Reproduce NDE (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 6.23 E-04
Anything Reproduce NDE (Y/N) Yes vs No 1.32 E-04
Questions Describe NDE (Y/N/U) Yes vs Uncertain vs No 0.353
Questions Describe NDE (Y/N) Yes vs No 0.671
Due to the large number of analyses performed, the p value indicating significance was selected to be 0.01. Of the 53 chi-square tests performed, significance indicated by p < 0.01was found in only four.
There was a statically significant difference between NDEs occurring before and after 1975, and age at time of experience (less than 18, or greater than or equal to 18 years old) with p=0.00000525. The trend was in the direction of NDEs occurring before 1975 more likely to be less than 18 years old at the time of the experience. This finding is expected, as those having NDEs at a younger age, before 1975, would have a higher probability of living the additional approximately 25 years after their NDE necessary for them to share their experience recently on the web survey.
There was a statically significant difference between NDEs occurring before and after 1975, and age of the NDEr at time of sharing the account on the web survey (less than age 40, or greater than or equal to 40 years old) with p=0.00000593. This is also an expected finding, as NDErs with their experience occurring prior to 1975 would be expected to be older on the average than NDErs with their experience occurring during or after 1975.
A statistically significant difference was observed between the two groups and the question “Following the experience, have you had any other events in your life, medications or substances which reproduced any part of the experience?” with p=0.000623 for Y,N,U,NR question analysis, and p=0.000132 for analysis of Yes/No responses only. The most likely explanation for this finding is that NDErs with their experience before 1975 have lived longer following their NDE, allowing a higher probability of encountering an event in their life that might reproduce some part of the experience.
There is a trend toward a statistically significant difference between the two groups in response to the question “Did you have any changes of attitudes or beliefs following the experience?” with p=0.089 for the Y,N,U,NR question analysis, and p=0.031 for analysis of Yes/No responses only. The trend was in the direction NDEs occurring before 1975 more likely to respond “No.” This finding should be interpreted cautiously, as there is only borderline statistical significance. Further, due to the small number of respondents both answering “No” to this question and having their NDE before 1975, the reliability of using chi-square in the analysis of responses to this question is diminished.
The most striking finding from the Chi-Square Analyses Results table is the lack of statistical significance in 49 of 53 analyses performed. This strongly suggests no significant differences between NDEs occurring before 1975 as compared with NDEs occurring during or after 1975 in our web survey respondents. The few exceptions are discussed above. All other questions pertaining to demographics, experience elements and aftereffects were not significantly different between the two groups.
This study presents a methodology to study NDE that has not been previously reported. Respondents are self-selected, must have access to Internet connection, be literate in English, and be willing to complete a web survey. Thus, our web survey respondents may not be representative of all NDErs as a whole. The issue of studying self-selected NDErs is an unavoidable issue in any web survey, and a concern with virtually all other NDE research. The methodology of this study comparing two groups responding to the same survey helps mitigate this concern regarding the results of this study. An advantage of the web survey methodology used is the ability to survey NDErs throughout the United States and around the world. The web survey included respondents predominantly from the United States, but also included many respondents from several other countries.
Assessment of the validity of the survey results was accomplished in several ways. Of the two most similar questions asked in the survey in a redundant fashion, the percentages of affirmative responses were very similar. The majority of respondents were e-mailed a narrative of their survey response, including the survey questions and their responses to the questions. All were encouraged to review their survey response for accuracy. There were few who subsequently contacted us regarding corrections, and such corrections were almost uniformly minor.
It is considered highly unlikely there is any significant number of plagiarized or fraudulent accounts submitted to the web survey and analyzed in this study. There was no compensation for completing the web survey, which would significantly reduce the incentive to share plagiarized or falsified accounts. Neither investigator reviewing the accounts submitted from the web survey recall any being commercially published, in whole or in part, elsewhere. Scores of experiences have been posted on the www.nderf.org web site over the years with well over 100 posted at the current time, which has been a major focus of this web site. In the history of the web site, there have been well over 100,000 visitors, with vast numbers of people reading the posted experiences. The investigators may be contacted easily from e-mail links throughout the web site. We have only been contacted regarding one fraudulent posted account in the history of the web site. This account was collected by a prior NDERF associate, and was not shared via the web survey. No other significant concerns about the validity of any other posted accounts have ever been communicated to us.
When respondents were asked in the web survey “Did the questions asked and information you provided accurately and comprehensively describe your experience?” 163 (79.9%) of 204 NDErs responding to the question answered “Yes.” Only 20 (9.8%) responded “No.” Given the complex and often ineffable nature of NDE, these results strongly suggest the ability of the web survey to allow the NDE to be accurately conveyed. Many NDE contributions consist of experiences occurring decades ago. As previously noted, the van Lommel study found virtually no change in NDE accounts when NDErs were asked to retell their account two and eight years after the experience (van Lommel, 2001, p. 2042). Most NDErs are highly confident of their recollection of the details of NDEs occurring many years ago.
From the preceding, the web survey methodology of this study seems valid to retrospectively study NDE and reach the conclusions of this study. Advances in Internet access and its growing availability suggest this Internet based research methodology may be increasingly important in the future.
The major finding of this study is that from the web survey results, there is no statistically significant difference between NDEs occurring before 1975 as compared to NDEs occurring during or after 1975. The only exceptions to this have been discussed, and are attributable to NDEr age at the time of the experience and age now. No other significant difference was found between these two groups with regard to NDE demographics, experience elements, or aftereffects studied between the 48 NDEs occurring before 1975, and the 170 NDEs occurring during or after 1975. We are not aware of any prior study of the similarities and differences of NDEs occurring before and after 1975. For obvious reasons, there cannot be a prospective study comparing NDEs before 1975 to those occurring during or after 1975. This issue can only be addressed by retrospective studies, such as this study.
As previously noted, the earliest NDE research of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s would have studied NDEs occurring predominantly prior to 1975. This study suggests older NDE research findings may be reasonably considered to be applicable to NDEs occurring more recently. The results of this study are suggestive that NDEs likely do not change significantly over time. A more valid statistical methodology to determine if there are any changes in NDEs over time would be to consider the year the NDE occurred as a continuous variable for all 218 NDErs, and compare the year of NDE occurrence with other NDE elements using the appropriate statistical method. Such an analysis is beyond the scope of this study.
Given that this study finds no significant difference between NDEs occurring before and after 1975, it is appropriate to address the possible concern that what NDErs share about their experience may be influenced by their prior understandings about NDE. Such influence on the details of the experience shared by NDErs could potentially occur from exposure to information regarding NDE prior to their experience, after their experience, or both. If the details of NDEs shared after 1975 were influenced by the NDErs prior knowledge of NDE from other published or shared accounts, this could theoretically explain the consistency of the NDE elements and aftereffects reported by NDErs after 1975. This concern has been previously raised by some NDE critics, who may refer to recent NDEs as “copycat” experiences. Prior to 1975 it would have been extremely unlikely for an NDEr to be aware of, and potentially influenced by, the NDE experiences of others. After 1975, there was increasing recognition of NDE over time by the public, with NDE accounts widely shared in media presentations, books, and organizations interested in NDE. Such increased recognition of NDE and the often intense public interest in NDE could potentially have influenced what NDErs share.
The available evidence suggests the similarity of NDE elements and aftereffects described in NDEs occurring before and after 1975 are due to the experiences actual similarity, and not due to older experiences influencing the details of NDEs shared more recently. The strongest evidence for this is from the van Lommel study (van Lommel, 2001). As previously noted, this study found essentially no change in accounts NDErs shared when NDErs were asked to tell their account several weeks, two years, and eight years after its occurrence. In reviewing the accounts used in this study, we are quite impressed with both the similarity and diversity of the NDEs shared on the web survey. Subjectively, we see no pattern in the narrative accounts of NDEs occurring after 1975 suggesting any influence on them from the narrative accounts of NDEs occurring before 1975.
To further investigate whether or not awareness of widely known NDE accounts or NDE researchers influenced the content of experiences shared with the www.nderf.org web site, we electronically searched the text in approximately 500 experiences, representing all experiences ever shared with the NDERF web site. Based on our research definition of NDE, these experiences included both NDE and non-NDE accounts. The rationale for evaluating all experiences shared with the NDERF web site is to allow these results to be more generally applicable, and to avoid excluding experiences solely based on our research definition of NDE. Key words we searched for were the names of seven widely known NDErs and NDE researchers. In these approximately 500 accounts, only Dr. Raymond Moody, Dannion Brinkley, and Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, were mentioned. Dr. Raymond Moody was the most frequently mentioned, with his name appearing in seven accounts. These accounts mostly involve experiences occurring before 1975, and indicate how his book “Life after Life” positively affected their understanding of their experience. Dannion Brinkley was mentioned in three accounts, all of whom had their experience after 1975. Only one comment was in regard to his NDE, the other two comments discussed his Compassion In Action movement. Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, was mentioned in two accounts. Both reported the great impact that her work had on them. If well known NDErs or researchers were highly influential among the experiencers sharing their accounts, it would be expected they would be mentioned more frequently than was observed. The very small number of accounts mentioning well known NDErs or NDE researchers suggests they likely had little or no influence on the NDErs reporting of the details of their experiences.
The data from the web survey are analyzed in a spreadsheet that has been designed to recalculate all chi-square results automatically as data from new NDEs is added. This will allow relatively easy re-analysis of results as additional NDEs are contributed over time. As additional NDEs are shared, it would be interesting to reproduce this study with more data which would result in even greater confidence in the study findings.
NDERF will continue the www.nderf.org web site as a public service and continues to encourage experience contributions. The investigators extend a heartfelt thanks to the large number of experiencers who have shared with us over the years, and whose willingness to share has made this study possible.
Long, J.P., and Long, J.A. (2002). Near Death Experience Research Foundation (www.nderf.org).
Moody, R. (1975). Life After Life. Covington, GA: Mockingbird.
van Lommel, P et al. (2001). Near Death Experience In Survivors of Cardiac Arrest: A Prospective Study in the Netherlands. The Lancet, 358, 2039-2042.
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