Article (Scientific journals)
The evolutionary origin of near-death experiences: a systematic investigation.
Peinkhofer, Costanza; Martial, Charlotte; Cassol, Helena et al.
2021In Brain Communications, 3 (3), p. 132
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Keywords :
death; evolution; near-death experience; survival; tonic immobility
Abstract :
[en] Near-death experiences are known from all parts of the world, various times and numerous cultural backgrounds. This universality suggests that near-death experiences may have a biological origin and purpose. Adhering to a preregistered protocol, we investigate the hypothesis that thanatosis, aka death-feigning, a last-resort defense mechanism in animals, is the evolutionary origin of near-death experiences. We first show that thanatosis is a highly preserved survival strategy occurring at all major nodes in a cladogram ranging from insects to humans. We then show that humans under attack by animal, human and 'modern' predators can experience both thanatosis and near-death experiences, and we further show that the phenomenology and the effects of the two overlap. In summary, we build a line of evidence suggesting that thanatosis is the evolutionary foundation of near-death experiences and that their shared biological purpose is the benefit of survival. We propose that the acquisition of language enabled humans to transform these events from relatively stereotyped death-feigning under predatory attacks into the rich perceptions that form near-death experiences and extend to non-predatory situations.
Research center :
CHU de Liège-Centre du Cerveau² - ULiège
Disciplines :
Author, co-author :
Peinkhofer, Costanza 
Martial, Charlotte   ;  Université de Liège - ULiège > GIGA Consciousness - Coma Science Group
Cassol, Helena ;  Université de Liège - ULiège > Département d'aérospatiale et mécanique > Ingénierie des véhicules terrestres
Laureys, Steven  ;  Université de Liège - ULiège > GIGA Consciousness - Coma Science Group
Kondziella, Daniel
 These authors have contributed equally to this work.
Language :
Title :
The evolutionary origin of near-death experiences: a systematic investigation.
Publication date :
Journal title :
Brain Communications
Publisher :
Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom
Volume :
Issue :
Pages :
Peer reviewed :
Peer Reviewed verified by ORBi
Name of the research project :
DOCMA project
Funders :
Lundbeck Foundation [DK]
Rigshospitalet [DK]
Region Hovedstaden
Jens Juhl Fonden
Jascha Fonden (D.K.)
ULiège - Université de Liège [BE]
CHU Liège - Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Liège [BE]
F.R.S.-FNRS - Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique [BE]
the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation
Bial Foundation [PT]
MSF - Mind Science Foundation [US-TX] [US-TX]
CE - Commission Européenne [BE]
Fund Generet
FRB - Fondation Roi Baudouin [BE]
Mind Care Foundation [BE]
Commentary :
© The Author(s) (2021). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Guarantors of Brain.
Available on ORBi :
since 27 August 2021


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