Thursday, October 13, 2005

"They're Not Nuts"

Susan Clancy Cropped
Regret Is Alien to UFO Abductees

By Randy Dotinga
wired News

     Harvard University psychology researcher Susan Clancy thinks the chances are good that you know at least one person who claims to have been abducted by aliens. And she has another surprise: The people who tell these stories aren't candidates for the funny farm.

     "They're not nuts," said Clancy, a postdoctoral researcher and author of a new book, the first to analyze the psychological underpinnings of abduction stories. "They're normal."

     Not that Clancy gives any credence to the countless tales of horny aliens, UFO-borne medical examinations and intrusive probes of nether regions. No one, she said, has actually been kidnapped by extraterrestrials.

     Instead, Clancy points to other causes including sleep hallucinations, innate suggestibility and a deeply human desire to explain the world. Pop culture plays a major role, too.

     These theories have been around for a while, but Clancy weaves them together in Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens to create a new, overarching explanation for alien-abduction stories, one that draws heavily on her own interviews with about 50 alleged abductees.

     And she throws in a new wrinkle: Despite the horrors that many abductees report enduring, including rape, they don't regret the experiences.

     In each case, the abduction "transformed their lives, made them feel better about themselves and the world they were living in," said Clancy, a postdoctoral fellow and one of the few American academics who study alien-abduction stories as a way to understand how people develop "unusual beliefs."

     It's impossible to know exactly how many Americans think they were abducted by aliens, although polls suggest about a quarter of us think extraterrestrials have dropped by the planet. While it's true that plenty of abductees are happy to tell their stories on the radio and the internet, Clancy said in an interview, others keep their stories to themselves because they fear being written off as crazy.

     Regardless of whether they broadcast their stories to the world, "they're not more likely than people who don't believe to be psychiatrically impaired," she said.

     In fact, the lives and occupations of abductees are often entirely ordinary. Clancy writes about her interviews with several schoolteachers, a dermatologist, a spa chef and a house cleaner. One was abducted while watching David Letterman's show in order to create "hybrid babies"; another told about aliens who wanted to "buy land in New Hampshire, stay here and breed."

     But not all had extensive memories. In fact, only about 10 percent of people who think they were abducted actually have detailed stories of what happened. The rest simply consider bits of evidence -- a mysterious bruise, perhaps, or a vague feeling -- and figure they must have been whisked away by aliens.

     Why would they do that, when other explanations would seemingly make more sense? Many people would look at a bruise and assume they innocuously injured themselves without knowing it. And the typical person wouldn't send something that fell out of his rear for analysis to see if it was a remnant of an anal probe. (One abductee did that, according to Clancy, and refused to believe the lab finding that it was actually a hemorrhoid.)

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