Many studies in humans suggest that altered temporal lobe functioning, especially functioning in the right temporal lobe, is involved in mystical and religious experiences. We investigated temporal lobe functioning in individuals who reported having transcendental "near-death experiences" during life-threatening events. These individuals were found to have more temporal lobe epileptiform electroencephalographic activity than control subjects and also reported significantly more temporal lobe epileptic symptoms. Contrary to predictions, epileptiform activity was nearly completely lateralized to the left hemisphere. The near-death experience was not associated with dysfunctional stress reactions such as dissociation, posttraumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse, but rather was associated with positive coping styles. Additional analyses revealed that near-death experiences had altered sleep patterns, specifically, a shorter duration of sleep and delayed REM sleep relative to the control group. These results suggest that altered temporal lobe functioning may be involved in the near-death experience and that individuals who have had such experiences are physiologically distinct from the general population.
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