A hostage to hallucination

Photo by Flickr user Meredith Farmer. Click for sourceI’ve just found a morbidly fascinating 1984 study on hallucinations in hostages and kidnap victims.

The paper is from the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease and contains case studies of people who have been held captive by terrorists, kidnappers, rapists, robbers, enemy troops and, er… UFOs.

The reasoning behind including two ‘alien abductees’ was to compare hallucinations in verified versus unverified hostage situations. Cases of people who were hostages but did not hallucinate are also included.

The study found that one in four hostages had intense hallucinations, and these were invariably people who were in life-threatening situations. Isolation, visual deprivation, physical restraint, violence and death threats also seemed to contribute to the chance of having a hallucinatory experience.

Case 14

A 23-year-old member of a street gang was taken hostage by a rival gang. He was kept in a warehouse, blindfolded and tied to a chair, for 32 hours. He was severely beaten and forced to record ransom demands on a tape recorder. During captivity he became dissociated – “even when they were hitting on me I just tripped out, got out of my body… it was like I was high on Sherms (phencyclidine).” At one point he felt detached from his body and “floated” to the ceiling where he observed himself being beaten and burned with cigarettes but denied having any pain. He saw colorful geometric patterns in the air and flashes of past memories “like a dream, only I kept seeing devils and cops and monsters… nightmares I guess”. Eventually he was released when his gang paid the ransom.

Some of the case studies are a little disturbing, but it’s worth reading the paper in full if you can, or at least from the beginning of the case studies, as it’s a rarely discussed but remarkably striking aspect of human experience.

Link to article on ‘Hostage Hallucinations’.
Link to PubMed entry for same.

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