How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens

Gustav Jaboda reviews Abducted by Susan A. Clancy, in Metapsychology:

Abduction20logoHalf a century ago, during the cold war, the social psychologist Leon Festinger and his colleagues studied a millennial sect who believed that the earth was going to be destroyed, but that they would be saved by extra-terrestrials. The book by Susan Clancy deals, in lively semi-popular fashion, with a similar topic. It opens with a refreshingly candid account of how she came to embark on such unusual research. She presents extracts from interviews with people of varying backgrounds who shared a set of — to us — weird beliefs. For instance, a number of them were convinced that they had been taken aboard a space ship where they became the objects of sexual or medical experimentation.

The question asked is how it is possible for 21st-century Americans to have such strange thoughts. Clancy’s main approach was connected with her special interest in ‘false memories’, a phenomenon extensively investigated in relation to alleged child sex abuse. Such memories were often elicited by psychiatrists or other therapists, and similarly she found that most of her ‘abduction’ cases had ‘either sought out or fell into the hands of an abduction researcher [who was a believer] or therapist.’ These ‘experts’ apparently tended to reinforce the beliefs, if not actually shaping them.

More here.