How Near-death Experiences Work

Who Has NDEs?

Books on NDEs include both first-person accounts and scientific studies.
Books on NDEs include both first-person accounts and scientific studies.

­ In 1982, pollster George Gallup, Jr. and author William Proctor released "Adventures in Immortality," a book about NDEs based on two Gallup polls specifica­lly addressing near-death and belief in the afterlife. This poll remains the most widely used source for statistics about NDEs.

Gallup and Proctor found that 15 percent of all Americans who had been in near-death situations reported NDEs. Of those, 9 percent included a "classic out-of-body experience," while 11 percent included entering another realm or dimension and 8 percent featured the presence of spiritual beings [ref]. Only 1 percent reported negative NDEs. But these numbers are more than 20 years old, and other researchers, whose studies are usually on a smaller scale, report statistics on NDEs that can vary widely from the 1982 poll.

A statistical analysis of more than 100 NDE subjects revealed that prior religious belief and prior knowledge of NDEs did not have an appreciable effect on the likelihood of having an NDE [ref].

Other research has focused on the effect an NDE has on the subject's life. Kenneth Ring, one of the most prolific researchers and authors of NDE studies, reports a large number of subjects who gain self-confidence and become more extroverted after an experience. One of Ring's studies quantified changes in subjects' attitudes toward life. These generally include a sense of purpose in life, an appreciation of life, and increase in compassion, patience and understanding and an overall feeling of personal strength. A small percentage of subjects reported feelings of fear, depression and a focus on death. Ring also found that NDE subjects tend to feel a heightened sense of religious feeling and belief in a spiritual world. However, he notes that this does not necessarily translate into an increase in church attendance -- it is more of an internal, personal increase in religious and spiritual feelings. Finally, people who go through NDEs often find that they do not fear death, and feel that a positive experience will be awaiting them when they actually die.

Next, we'll examine the spiritual and supernatural theories that seek to explain near-death experiences.