Having an out-of-body experience? Blame this sausage-shaped piece of your brain

A study from Stanford University links the anterior precuneus, a part of the brain, with out-of-body experiences and thereby gives insights for development of new treatments for epilepsy and mental health disorders.

Subjective experience: A subject came to Stanford’s Dr. Josef Parvizi with unusual symptoms including feeling detached from conversations and a sense of floating in space, which were traced to the anterior precuneus part of his brain.
* This region is seen as critical to a person’s sense of inhabiting their own body, or bodily self.
* The finding could aid in developing forms of anesthesia that use electrical stimulation instead of drugs and help explain the antidepressant effects of mind-altering drugs like ketamine.

Research examination: Studies were conducted on the initial patient and eight others who had severe epilepsy.
* During the process to locate the source of their seizures, electrodes were used for stimulating different areas of the brain to observe effects on a person’s sense of self.
* Stimulation of the anterior precuneus invariably caused changes in subjects’ sense of bodily or physical self, producing out-of-body experiences.

Scientific insight: The anterior precuneus is speculated to be tagging every experience in the environment as ‘mine’, essentially helping the brain with perspective and self-actualization.
* The anterior precuneus is found to process signals from the inner ear, responsible for detecting motion and monitoring the body’s position in space.
* The reactions evoked by stimulating this brain area suggest its role in reconciling conflicting sensory inputs and might be similar to effects of drugs like ketamine.

Implications: If further confirmed, tactile stimulation of the anterior precuneus could potentially be used as an alternate to anesthetic drugs like ketamine.
* By targeting specific brain areas, it might be possible to mitigate side effects associated with ‘brainwide and systemwide effect’ of certain drugs.

View original article on NPR

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