In Part 1 of this article, I discussed Rick Strassman’s(link is external) research on DMT. In particular, I focused on the phenomenon of DMT users frequently encountering non-human entities of various kinds. These experiences have a striking similarity to alien abduction. Even more strangely, many participants came away convinced that these entities are somehow real. Strassman (2001) has speculated that these entities could be inhabitants of a parallel universe. I will not attempt to explain what such entities might represent, as this is not at all understood. What I will focus on are the psychological factors that influence people’s judgments about what is real and how these might explain why people come to believe in the existence of such beings.
The sheer vividness of the DMT experience is probably a major factor. As noted in Part 1, colours became much more intense than in real life. One participant described the colours as “10 to 100 times more saturated.” The content of the visions was so bizarre and unexpected that volunteers found it difficult to believe they could imagine such things. Additionally, volunteers generally felt that their thinking was clear and unimpaired. Psychedelic drug experiences tend to be associated with a feeling that one is experiencing something extraordinarily profound and this may increase a person’s confidence that they are experiencing something deeply real.
However, there is considerable psychological research indicating that a person’s confidence in the reality of their experiences is actually a poor guide to the accuracy of what has actually occurred. For example, research on memory has found that even when people have complete confidence they have remembered an event accurately, their recall may be highly distorted. In one study, people who had been asked to describe their recollection of the space shuttle Challenger disaster a day after it happened had substantially inaccurate recall of the event three years later.
Very few were correct about every single detail and fully a quarter was incorrect about every single detail. In spite of this, they had very high confidence in the accuracy of their recall and described their recollections as very vivid. The degree of emotion experienced at the time of the incident was unrelated to the accuracy of recall. Even with highly salient and frightening events, confidence in memory is not a good guide to their accuracy. Some participants even protested that the original record of their recollections was not how they remembered it (Spanos, 1996).