Alien Abduction ~ Fact or Fiction?


If the figures are to be believed, up to 4 million people have been abducted by aliens in the US, with many millions more captured world wide. Although the existence of human hungry aliens might be impossible to disprove per se, it is unlikely that extra-terrestrials could manage such mass kidnappings without being commonly noticed. This suggests that there are many people who falsely believe they have been seized by creatures from outer-space, perhaps after experiencing unusual and bizarre phenomena. The purpose of this article is to communicate some of the recent research in psychology and neuroscience that gives us some clues as to how and why these experiences and beliefs occur.

Some of the many thousands of people who claim to have been abducted are likely to be fortune seekers, bar-room braggers, publicity hounds and maybe even some genuine abductees. Yet with the high numbers of people reporting abductions, many of the people who believe they have been captured will likely have been mistaken.

The History of Abductions

Yes there are signs of crafts being seen in the sky and alien contact in ancient text, but without knowledge as to what these hieroglyphs, paintings etc actually symbolize or mean we will stay away from ancient astronaut theories and look at recorded history.

The First reported Sighting to make Print!

In the November 27, 1896 edition of the Stockton, California Daily Mail, Colonel H. G. Shaw claimed he and a friend were harassed by three tall, slender humanoids whose bodies were covered with a fine, downy hair who tried to kidnap the pair.

Colonel H. G. Shaw, along with his friend Camille Spooner, had a close encounter with previously unknown entities.

Shaw was in charge of putting together an exhibition to be displayed at a Fair in Fresno.

Shaw and friend were traveling by horse and carriage in route to Stockton, when their horse froze with fright.

To the two men's shock, they saw the cause of the horse's actions; three tall alien looking beings with small delicate hands at the end of their spindly arms stood by the road. They had no hair on their heads, yet a soft, light fuzz over their bodies. Large eyes made their small mouths and ears appear even smaller.

The two eyewitnesses would later tell authorities that the beings had a "strange" type of beauty to them.

All of the beings carried with them a bag of some kind with a hose which they often stuck in their mouths, obviously to breath with. Although there was still some daytime left, the beings also carried with them egg-shaped lamps which glowed. This glow would later illuminate a waiting spaceship.

As the men watched the aliens, the beings were communicating with each other by a type of chant, as no English words were heard by Shaw and Spooner. The men would tell authorities that the aliens made an attempt to abduct them, but that the large difference in mass between the human and alien body thwarted the effort.

Soon, the three alien beings made a move toward a nearby bridge. Using their other worldly lamps, the aliens lighted up the bridge, showing a nearby craft. The UFO was of a cigar shape, and it hovered quietly over the water.

The beings seemed to be almost lighter than air as they moved toward their craft. It seemed that the aliens would almost leave the ground as they walked on the earth.

The beings entered the hovering cigar UFO in a most unconventional way also. They sprung up from the ground and above their craft, and then floated down into the craft through an unseen entry. Soon, the object flew away.

Then in the 1940s and '50s

The Space Age was upon us, and sci-fi literature was soaring in popularity with human-alien encounters a recurring theme. In July 1946, "Planet Comics" ran a strip in which aliens used a luminous tractor beam to kidnap a voluptuous female earthling, whom they called Specimen 9. They tell her the abduction is part of "Project Survival," and as they steer their spaceship toward what looks like Saturn, the leader remarks, "Now home. And if you find our methods ruthless, Specimen 9, it is because our needs are desperate."

Likewise, in 1954, a comic strip appearing in the British tabloid The Daily Express detailed the alien abduction of a Royal Air Force pilot. Dozens of other abduction stories graced the pages of sci-fi novels and comic books.

June 24, 1947 The Kenneth Arnold Incident

Kenneth Arnold, a businessman, was flying his private plane near Mount Rainier in Washington State when he saw nine shining discs moving against the background of the mountain. He estimated their speed as about 1,000 mph. He said that they swerved in and out of the peaks of the Cascade Mountains with "flipping, erratic movements." He later told a reporter that the objects moved as a saucer would "if you skipped it across the water." The next day the story appeared in newspapers all over the nation, calling the strange objects "flying saucers." Hundreds of people soon began reporting sightings of flying saucers, and a US Air Force investigation was initiated; on 4 July, ten days after the sighting, the US Air Force announced confidently that Arnold had been "hallucinating."

1953 Hunrath and Wilkinson Disappearance

The 1950s was a time of major UFO activity but it was also a time in UFO history known by a group of persons known as "UFO contactees". These individuals claimed to have made contact with the alien occupants of the flying saucers. For some these contacts were face to face, for others the communications were telepathic. Some claimed to have been given rides on alien spacecraft. Most of the mainstream UFO organizations of the time gave little credence to the contactees, and believed most to be hoaxers or people suffering from delusions. One of the most famous contactees was George Adamski.

George Adamski was born in Poland and immigrated to the US at a young age. By the 1930s, he was living in California as a sort of guru practicing "Universal Progressive Christianity". He set up a small observatory at a restaurant "Palomar Gardens" below the famous Mount Palomar Observatory. By the early 1950s, Adamski was taking photographs of flying saucers with his telescope and writing science fiction and articles about the occult. On November 20, 1952, Adamski reportedly met an angelic looking man named Orthon who emerged from a landed flying saucer, claiming to be from Venus. During this encounter at the base of the Coxcomb Mountains, not far from Desert Center, California, Adamski was accompanied by six people who were told by Adamski to stay behind while he made the contact with Orthon.

After this encounter, Adamski attracted a small group of followers. One of these was Karl Hunrath, a electrical engineer, who had invented "Bosco" a device which was intended to bring down flying saucers. After a dispute with Adamski, Hunrath moved away from Palomar Gardens and rented an apartment in Los Angeles with Jerrold Baker, a handyman at Palomar Gardens who had also had a falling out with Adamski.

Karl Hunrath was soon working as a radio technician. In June 1953, a old friend of Hunrath's from Racine, Wisconsin, Wilbur J. Wilkinson, arrived in Los Angeles with his wife and three children. Wilkinson, a co-inventor of Bosco, had left his job as a foreman at an electrical appliance plant, to join Hunrath in his efforts to see a flying saucer and meet an alien.

The two men developed an interest in channeling aliens, meeting other contactees and using psychic techniques and mechanical contractions to communicate with the "Maserians", beings who allegedly lived on the moon.

On or about November 10, 1953, Karl Hunrath made phone calls to several associates telling them that some people had left Earth for other planets and that no one should be surprised if this might happen to him. On November 11, 1953, Hunrath and Wilkinson rented a small plane at Gardina County Airport near Los Angeles. With three hours of fuel, one hour paid rental, and no filed flight plan, Hunrath flew off with his passenger Wilkinson with the likely intent to meet a grounded saucer which they apparently presumed would take them to Maser, Venus or some other off-Earth populated celestial body.

Apparently to this day, no trace of the aircraft or the two men has been found. Most people presume that Hunrath, an inexperienced pilot, probably crashed somewhere in the mountainous terrain east of Los Angeles. If this is so, the aircraft wreckage may be out there still.

Wilbur J Wilkinson, provided this script, claiming it was from a race using the moon as a way-station for its people from the planet Maser.

NOTE: Adamski was quoted as saying "I made enough wine for all of Southern California…I was making a fortune!" However, the end of Prohibition also marked the decline of his profitable wine-making business, and Adamski later told two friends that's when he "had to get into this [flying] saucer crap.

Antonio Villas Boas Abduction Case

In 1957, a Brazilian writer named João Martins penned the first installment of a series titled "Flying Saucers' Terrible Mission" for the magazine O Cruzeiro. "There he describes cases of people in isolated places attacked by small alien beings".

Martins also asked his readers to write him with their own experiences. Among hundreds of responses, he selected one of a young farmer from Minas Gerais with whom he exchanged several letters.

The next year, Martins paid for the 23-year-old farmer to come to Rio de Janeiro, where he was examined by Dr. Olavo Fontes. The farmer's name was Antonio Villas Boas, and he claimed to have been abducted by aliens one day after reading Martin's article?

The story got out. Walter Buhler of the Brazilian ufology group SBEDV, and a follower of the self-described alien contactee George Adamski, learned about Vilas Boas' story, and in 1962, Buhler visited the young farmer in his hometown. The SBEDV subsequently published a report on the Villas Boas case in English, and the account aligned with Adamski's earlier descriptions of aliens and their spaceships. In January 1965, an international journal called the Flying Saucer Review reproduced Buhler's report worldwide.

Villas Boas was working the fields at night to avoid the scorching temperatures of the day, when he saw the red light of a spaceship; it slowly approached him and landed nearby in a field. Villas Boas tried to escape but was captured by small humanoid creatures, which dragged him into their craft.

The aliens conducted a series of experiments on their captive, including taking samples of his body tissue, exposing him to a gas that made him violently ill, and compelling him to have sexual intercourse with a female alien, who was, Villas Boas said, very attractive, with blonde hair and blue, cat-like eyes.

A few details hint that the story was fabricated or imagined. "If you read Villas Boas' account you may notice the advanced aliens nonetheless used rope ladders. Moreover, "Villas Boas' original sketch of the alien spaceship, with three legs, looks remarkably like the drawings of Sputnik-1, often depicted with three of its four antennas showing. The Sputnik surely was the talk of the time in 1957 when Villas Boas was supposedly abducted – or imagined his story."

The Betty and Barney Hill Case

Widespread publicity was generated by the Betty and Barney Hill abduction case of 1961, culminating in a made-for-television film broadcast in 1975 (starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons) dramatizing the events. The Hill incident was probably the prototypical abduction case and was perhaps the first in which the claimant described beings that later became widely known as the Greys and in which the beings were said to explicitly identify an extraterrestrial origin.

The Hills were an interracial couple in the 1960s, and the exhibit discusses Barney Hill's civil rights activism. However, the couple is best known for giving the first reported incident of an alleged alien abduction in America.

Today, due to television shows and films, the scenario is familiar: UFOs chase down terrified witnesses on a desolate road and take them onto the spaceship to ask them questions or probe them in awkward places.

It began one night when Barney and Betty Hill claimed they were pursued by a glowing UFO through parts of New Hampshire. Betty soon had vivid nightmares (which she interpreted as fragmented memories) about the incident, and the couple came to believe that they had been abducted by the UFO's occupants, who then erased their memories. The couple sought the help of a psychiatrist, and under hypnosis both Hills soon reported full-blown, detailed "repressed memories" of their abduction.

The Barney and Betty Hill story was celebrated as the most important UFO-related event in the 1960s, and spun into a media sensation. Their experiences became fodder for many magazine articles, books, and a made-for-TV film called "The UFO Incident." Betty became a UFO celebrity, giving media appearances and writing a book about her story.

As the years passed, however, the story lost its gloss and most realize it to be a hoax.

No other witnesses could support their account, parts of it were implausible, and the validity of "repressed memories" was called into question. Betty Hill's own reported experiences cast doubt on her credibility. In the decades since her original 1961 experience with her husband Barney, Betty claimed not a few, nor dozens, but hundreds of UFO sightings.

Though UFO investigators desperately wanted to believe her, that became more difficult. One UFO researcher who worked with Betty noted that she was "unable to distinguish between a landed UFO and a streetlight." In other words, she saw UFOs where none existed.

Even many UFO believers reluctantly admit that much of Betty Hill's experiences and stories cannot be true and instead are likely imaginative fantasies of a sincere but confused woman. With little or no corroborating evidence and no eyewitnesses to support their remarkable story, the Barney and Betty Hill abduction case is, as often happens, inconclusive at best and a complete fabrication at worst.

If the Witnesses are not hoaxers or scammers then what else explains these experiences?

Sleep paralysis

Awareness during sleep paralysis is a common explanation for this confusion, most probably as abduction experiences and conscious sleep paralysis attacks often share many of the same features, such as waking whilst unable to move, feelings of fear, dread or unease and a feeling of pressure on the body. Normal sleep paralysis happens when the body enters the REM stage of the sleep cycle. The brain stem blocks movement signals that would normally travel from the brain to the muscles, probably to stop us carrying out the movements we dream about doing. The frightening aspect of this occurs when a sleeper awakens, becomes conscious, but who's movement control is not reinstated by the brain. This state can also be accompanied by what are known as 'hypnopompic' hallucinations which occur naturally to many people whilst awakening. These hallucinations can take the form of voices, lights, figures or any number of strange bodily sensations. It is little wonder that when combined with fearful paralysis such uncanny experiences might be interpreted as alien in origin.

Temporal lobe disturbance

Another commonly cited source of internal spookiness are the temporal lobes of the brain. Electrical stimulation of the surface of the temporal lobes (usually done on an awake patient when they are undergoing brain surgery) can produce unusual auditory sensations. Similarly, Michael Persinger, a Canadian scientist, has produced strange sensations in his research participants by using magnets to influence temporal lobe function from outside the skull. Such sensations have included feelings of a 'presence', disorientation and fear. It would seem unlikely that a possible abductee would fail to notice if someone placed large magnets near his or her head (or even that they were subject to brain surgery !) before the 'abduction' experience. However, similar effects can be caused by epileptic or similar seizures in the temporal lobes. Many epilepsy sufferers who have temporal lobe seizures report mystical experiences, missing time, out of body feelings or even strange smells or 'atmospheres' prior to, during or after a seizure. It must be remembered that not all forms of epilepsy cause dramatic shaking of the body, and many simply result in brief lapses of consciousness or experiences such as those noted above. This leads us to wonder whether disturbances in the temporal lobes may also contribute to experiences which some people may interpret as an alien abduction.

Mental illness

Surprisingly, overt mental illness may be one of the least likely explanations for abduction experiences. Research has previously suggested that alien contactees are no more likely to show signs of mental illness than the general population, a finding which has been backed up by several other studies. However, many features once thought present only in mental illness have now been discovered to be held by much of the population. If we look at the healthy population as a whole, these features seem to exist on a continuum with some people reporting anomalous thoughts and feelings or having certain traits more than others. In this vein, it seems people who report themselves as abductees are more likely to endorse unusual experiences, be creative and imaginative, have depressive ideas, be suspicious, have dissociative tendencies and to have suffered childhood trauma. So whilst it seems unlikely that the bizarre experiences reported by most 'abductees' stem from severe mental illness (which can produce equally bizarre and seemingly real experiences) it is certainly the case that this group has characteristics that differentiate them from the general population. It is possible that these dispositions may increase the tendency for them to explain an anomalous experience in terms of alien contact.

Memory distortion

Our memories are often infuriatingly fallible, leading us to forget information we want to remember, remember information we'd rather forget, or often confidently recall something that later turns out to be inaccurate. A recent study has investigated memory distortions in people claiming to have been subject to alien capture. Participants in the study were read several lists of similarly themed words then given tests of recall and recognition. The results of the study indicated that 'abductees' were able to remember words from the original list as well as 'non-abductees', but tended to show a higher rate of recall and recognition for words that were never actually read out in the first place. This suggests that the 'abductees' are more likely to misidentify the source of memories, perhaps suggesting that some elements of their abduction experience may have been culled from other sources such as the media or their own imagination.

This effect may also work retrospectively, allowing people to co-opt previous memories to support an abduction account. An early memory study conducted by Frederic Bartlett demonstrated that we reconstruct memories as they are recalled to create a coherent story. This reconstruction takes place using cultural references that give us a frame on which to hang the various remembered experiences. The alien abduction experience is well known to almost everyone, due to the popularity of shows such as the X-Files, and famous cases which have hit the headlines. This may give some people a cultural framework on which they can hang memories from a bizarre, unusual or traumatic experience. Unfortunately it is even the case that naïve or even unscrupulous therapists may push alien abduction as a explanation for a bizarre experience that a client may have undergone. Many examples of therapists willing to use hypnotic regression, a technique noted for its tendency to cause false recall, to recover abduction experiences can be found on the internet. Perhaps giving an off-the-shelf explanation for strange experiences that the brain is quite capable of generating, without the need for extra-terrestrial intervention.


It would certainly be foolish to discount the possibility of anything unlikely, simply because of its improbability. Yet we must also remember that we can often find explanations for anomalous experience within ourselves. As the old doctor's adage goes 'When you hear hoof beats, start by thinking horses not zebras'. This would seem to work as well for zebras as it does for visitors from outer-space.



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