Helena Aicher, PhD canditate
University of Zurich, Department of Psychology
Out of body experiences and their relation to affective states
There is a strong interrelation between the perception of our body and fundamental affective and interoceptive processes.
Affective disorders have been associated with both disturbed interoceptive and exteroceptive aspects of the (bodily) self. Experimental alterations of the bodily self through various techniques such as meditation, enhanced breathing or psychotropic substances (e.g., psilocybin, ketamine) have been argued to alleviate symptoms and normalize interoception (e.g., Watts et al., 2017; Kreitschmann-Andermahr et al., 2001; Khalsa et al. 2018). Empirical research on the therapeutic effects of psychedelic substances has evinced impressive improvement of clinical symptoms in mental disorders (e.g., Carhart-Harris et al., 2016), including psychedelic-induced alterations of corporeal awareness. Embodiment of emotions, out of body experiences, or other alterations of embodiment are often reported (Belser et al., 2017) and could therefore be considered a potentially underlying mechanism of symptom remediation in patients.
In the study presented here, we investigate whether by perceptually stimulating OBE in altered reality we can counteract experimentally induced sadness in healthy participants by using both subjective mood measures as well as the heartbeat evoked potential (an EEG-measure), heartrate variability and heart rate as implicit measure of interoception and as measure of healthy adaption to the environment.
The results will be important both for fundamental research on the nature of the plasticity of the bodily self, the interactions between bodily self and affective and cognitive processing, as well as for potentially developing novel experimental treatments for depressive individuals.
Fascinated by the phenomenology of altered states of consciousness and their underlying neurophysiological correlates, Helena Aicher explores intersections, between the theoretical and the practical, between body and mind, basic research and clinical application. As a doctoral researcher at the University of Zurich, she investigates the influence of altered states of (bodily) consciousness induced by multisensory stimulation paradigms, serotonergic psychoactive substances, and other means on affective and cognitive processes and neurophysiological parameters. She aims to integrate this knowledge for the development of novel psychotherapeutic approaches, taking into account contextual factors.