Sensation of presence (psychology): causes and associated disorders

Throughout history and cultures, human beings have experienced phenomena they were unable to explain, labeling them as paranormal. This is due to the body’s incredible ability to give us some rather strange experiences, which people try to make sense of, most of the time from a cultural point of view.

Fortunately, science has evolved enough to explain some of these phenomena, including the sense of presence, or sense of presence, which will be discussed in this article. A sensation which, still disturbing, finds its explanation in the functioning of the brain.

    What is the feeling of presence?

    The feeling of presence is a perceptual distortion in which the person feels they are not alone although there is no external stimulus that supports this sensation; being the most representative case that of a person who feels a presence behind him, which can be quite disturbing.

    Although this is a phenomenon that occurs in the healthy population on an ad hoc basis, it can occur in with very specific brain damage, Especially, and more often and intensely, in people who tend to suffer from hallucinations.

      perceptual distortions

      The set of disorders of perception or imagination is divided into two large groups: perceptual distortions and disappointments.

      Although these two terms coincide with the person having an unusual perceptual experience, there are differences between the two. This difference lies in the fact that in perceptual distortions there is a stimulus but the subject is distorted, and in perceptual deceptions, they are not based on real stimuli it is outside the subject.

      Since the sense of presence is considered a perceptual distortion, this section will focus on describing these.

        How do these distortions appear?

        These distortions are experienced by the person as a misperception of the surrounding reality. They usually occur when a stimulus that exists outside the person and that is accessible to the sense organs is perceived in a different and erroneous way than one might expect depending on the characteristics of the stimulus itself.

        In such cases, the anomaly is that the physical characteristics of what surrounds us, Which are perceived in a distorted way. To qualify such an experience as a cognitive distortion, two requirements must be taken into account:

        • Experience a different perception than usual, most likely conditioned by previous experiences.
        • Experience a different perception by take into account the physical or formal conformation of the stimulus.

        As noted above, in cognitive distortions, the anomaly tends to present itself in the subject’s perception of a given stimulus. However, sometimes these distortions have their origin organic-based disordersUsually temporary and can influence both sensory perception and understanding at the central nervous system level.

        In short, distortions are the product of a bad interaction between these three elements:

        • Qualities of stimulus
        • Qualities of the context in which the stimulus appears
        • Characteristics of the recipient

        Causes and associated disorders

        In an experiment, detailed at the end of this article, they were identified as responsible for the frontoparietal cortex and parts of the brain, such as the limbic system, associated with self-awareness, movement, and the body’s position in it. ‘space. ; discover that people who perceived this type of presence suffered from some type of damage or injury in these areas.

        Generally, the sensation of presence is linked to one of these alterations or disorders:

        • Anxiety states
        • Pathological fear states
        • schizophrenia
        • Mental disorders of biological origin

        As for the healthy population that suffers from this type of experience, it is usual for it to occur periods of extreme stress or fatigue or in singles with a very drastic decrease in environmental stimulation.

        In the event that it becomes a recurring and lasting event, or be accompanied by other sensations or symptoms, It is advisable to go to the referring doctor for an evaluation.

        The importance of performing a psychiatric or psychological assessment in these cases lies in three points:

        • It’s possible association with other signs or symptoms.
        • It is the sign of a high emotional state.
        • They can alert clinical staff to the existence of an etiologic basis for this perception disorder.

        The Lausanne experience

        In 2014, a team of researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) was able to identify certain areas of the brain that are likely to be related with this singular and disturbing sensation.

        This group of scientists also carried out an experiment which reproduced in people this feeling of closeness to a strange being.

        The test began with a brain scan of 12 people suffering from a neurological disorder who said they had this sense of presence. By means of this scanner, it was discovered that they all showed some kind of damage to some parts of the brain functions are related to self-awareness, movement and body position.

        The researchers then succeeded in recreating the feeling that the person feels when they perceive such a sensation. To do this, they used 48 healthy volunteers who had never noticed this presence and exposed them to an experience that altered neural signals in these same brain regions.

        The first step in this test was to cover the participants’ eyes, after which they were asked to operate a robotic system with their hands. Ok another robot did it he traced exactly the same movements on the backs of the volunteers.

        When these movements took place at the same time, the test participants did not feel anything strange. However, when there was a delay between the two movements, a third of the participants say they feel some kind of presence in the room.

        Such was the agitation provoked in some people who even went so far as to ask for the experiment to be stopped.

        The explanation is that the human brain has different representations of its own body in space, and in normal situations has no problem developing a unified perception of self. However, when this system malfunctions this can lead to a second representation of his own body, Perceiving it as the presence of another different person who cannot see.

        The group of scientists hypothesized that when people perceive this phantom-like presence, the brain actually becomes confused; miscalculate the position of the body and therefore identify it as belonging to another person or to a being.

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