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Susan A. Clancy


How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens

Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Thousands, perhaps even millions, of Americans believe that they have been abducted by aliens and subjected to painful 'medical' examinations, often with a sexual element. The early reports of the phenomenon were linked with sightings of UFOs but more recently such preliminaries have been often done away with and people have simply been abducted from their beds.

Susan Clancy did not intend to become involved in abduction research initially. She was interested in false memory syndrome and started to investigate this by interviewing victims of childhood sexual abuse, some of whom had 'remembered' the abuse only after they had been hypnotised. But this work provoked so much hostility that she switched to abduction memories, which she hoped would be less contentious. She spent 5 years studying these.

She started her survey by placing an appeal in the papers for abductees to get in touch with her. This produced some very odd responses but eventually she got in contact with a number of abductees who were willing to co-operate. She presents her findings with numerous verbatim statements by her interviewees. She has chapters asking how people came to believe they were abducted, why they have memories of something that didn't happen, and why abduction stories are so consistent. (Actually, they are not really consistent but there are over-all similarities owing to the widespread knowledge of what abduction 'should' be like.)

Clancy comes up with convincing answers to all the questions she poses. She thinks that abduction reports are due a combination of sleep paralysis, memory distortion, fantasy-proneness, culturally available scripts, sleep hallucinations, and scientific illiteracy, aided and abetted by the suggestions and reinforcement of hypnotherapists. But there is another factor which she thinks is important, and I found this the most interesting part of her account.

A main reason why abductees have these experiences, Clancy thinks, is that they provide them with a sense of meaning, and they function in many ways as a religion substitute. This emerged when she asked her interviewees if they would have preferred not to be abducted. Although the experiences were usually terrifying and traumatic, not one would have missed having them. Some of them described what had happened to them in openly religious and mystical terms. Being abducted had radically transformed their attitudes to life and revealed depths of meaning to them that they would otherwise never have discovered. Unlike science, which always offers answers that are provisional and open to doubt, the abduction experience provides certainty, and this is what many people crave.

This is an insightful and very readable account of an extraordinary phenomenon. It is much the best of its kind that I have read. Its implications extend beyond alien abductions themselves; much of what Clancy found can be applied to the wider question of religious belief.

10 April 2009

%T Abducted
%S How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens
%A Clancy, Susan A.
%I Harvard University Press
%C Harvard, Massachusetts; London England
%D 2005
%G ISBN 0-674-01879-6
%P 179 pp
%K psychology

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