Academic studies on claimed past-life memories

Academic studies on claimed past-life memories

Researchers analysed the main international scientific databases and found that most studies on claimed past-life memories were carried out mainly in Asian countries, between 1990 and 2010, through interviews and document analysis. Children were the most frequent target audience in these studies, which focused mainly on past life memory claims, but also on unusual behaviours, marks and birth defects.

The claimed past-life memories (PLM) have been studied for decades by researchers from several countries with different academic backgrounds (anthropologists, psychiatrists, psychologists and others). However, although PLM studies seem to report significant evidence, there is controversy over possible explanations for these memories ranging from childhood fantasies, inherited memories and extrasensory perception to cryptomnesia, paramnesia or fraud.

Aiming to provide an up-to-date overview and to help to set up methodological approaches for future studies, a team of researchers from Brazil and the USA selected a total of 1784 studies published on PML from 1960 to 2020 in the scientific databases Scopus, Web of Science, PubMed/Medline, PsycINFO, Scielo and OpenGrey.

A set of 1784 studies was screened and assessed according to previously established eligibility criteria, resulting in a final sample of 78 studies. The analysis of these studies revealed that the majority of PML investigations were performed in Asian countries (58), followed by North America (10), and to a lesser extent Europe (2), Africa (1) and 7 multi-territorial samples. Hypothetically, it is believed that the Asian prevalence might be associated with a predominance of beliefs in reincarnation shared among its religious/spiritual traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. However, reports of PLM have also been recorded in Western countries and in cultures that do not believe in reincarnation.

There has been a gradual increase in publications per decade since the first academic study published in 1960 by Ian Stevenson (the author of this topic with the highest number publications and citations), with the majority of publications (45%) occurring in the period between 1990 and 2010.

The predominant methodological approaches were interviews (73%) and document analysis (50%). Regarding the target audience, most studies (84%) focused on children's reports, with memory claims (100%) being recorded, often associated with a violent death during the previous life; unusual behaviours (74%), such as phobias and xenoglossia (speaking languages ​​that were not previously learned); and birthmarks/defects (37%), sometimes corresponding to wounds from the previous life. Information relating to an alleged previous family was identified in 41% of the studies, with 11% of their written records being made before contact with the supposed previous family.

The results obtained were presented in the article “Academic studies on past-life memories: A scoping review”, by Lucam Moraes, Gabrielle Barbosa, João Pedro Castro, Jim Tucker and Alexander Moreira-Almeida, which was published in 2021 in the journal Science Direct. The paper is one of the first results of the project "National survey of Cases of Reincarnation Type in Brazil" developed by researchers from NUPES - Center for Research in Spirituality and Health of the Federal University of Juiz de Fora (Brazil) and the Division of Perceptual Studies of the University of Virginia, School of Medicine (USA), with the support of the BIAL Foundation.

Learn more about the study “National survey of Cases of Reincarnation Type in Brazil” here.




Academic studies on claimed past-life memories

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