The Neuroscience of Psychic Experience

By Daniel Amen, MD Daniel G. Amen, MD is a psychiatrist, brain-imaging specialist and Founder of Amen Clinics with six locations across the United States. Learn more at

The Neuroscience of Psychic Experience

The brain science of "psychic experience" is both fascinating and important. It generally is associated with a decrease in frontal lobe function (disinhibition) and increases or decreases in right temporal lobe function (similar to seizure phenomena). Many people who believe they are psychic try to hide it, because they are afraid they’ll be labeled as crazy, evil, or satanic. There are even some religious taboos against it. Yet, the Apostle Paul and other prophets had psychic experiences. Such experiences are more common after brain injuries, especially to the right brain hemisphere. Some people report feeling anxious if they try to suppress the psychic experience.

In one study, Brain SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scans on 10 mediums (people who communicate with the dead) showed lower activity in the temporal lobes and frontal lobes when doing psychography (writing what the dead were saying). One speculation from the paper was that as overall frontal lobe function decreased, mediums were less inhibited in their abilities. In a similar manner, improvisational music performance is associated with lower levels of frontal lobe activity, which allows for more creative activity.

Below is a brain scan of one of our normal subjects who was a psychic channeler. The first image is before channeling and the second image is during a channeling session. During the channeling session, you can see a marked deactivation of brain activity. This makes sense if you agree with the theory that psychics have to turn off their own thoughts if they are going to tune into the frequencies of the universe.

Of course, these brain changes do not show proof that psychic experience is real – but it is fascinating and starting to show a consistent brain signature, from the beyond or not.

Below are some fascinating references about the brain and psychic experience:

In another interesting study, psychic-sensitive people were more likely to be single or divorced people, and people who had at sometime consulted a psychiatrist. They had experienced more head injuries and serious illnesses than the controls. Sixty-six percent showed evidence of right hemisphere and right temporal lobe dysfunction. Mystical experiences showed a trend toward being related to non-dominant hemisphere (usually right) dysfunction.

Fenwick P, Galliano S, Coate MA, Rippere V, Brown D. 'Psychic sensitivity', mystical experience, head injury and brain pathology. Br J Med Psychol. 1985 Mar;58 ( Pt 1):35-44.

Mystical or paranormal experiences are associated with transient electrical activity within the temporal lobes of the human brain.

Persinger MA, Valliant PM. Temporal lobe signs and reports of subjective paranormal experiences in a normal population: a replication. Percept Mot Skills. 1985 Jun;60(3):903-9.

Increased right temporal lobe activity in a known psychic, Sean Harribance.

Roll WG, Persinger MA, Webster DL, Tiller SG, Cook CM. Neurobehavioral and neurometabolic (SPECT) correlates of paranormal information: involvement of the right hemisphere and its sensitivity to weak complex magnetic fields. Int J Neurosci. 2002 Feb;112(2):197-224.

People who report objects moving in their presence, unusual sounds, glows around other people, and multiple sensed presences but do not meet the criteria for psychiatric disorders have been shown to exhibit electrical anomalies over the right temporal lobes.

Roll WG, Saroka KS, Mulligan BP, Hunter MD, Dotta BT, Gang N, Scott MA, St-Pierre LS, Persinger MA. Case report: a prototypical experience of 'poltergeist' activity, conspicuous quantitative electroencephalographic patterns, and sLORETA profiles - suggestions for intervention.Neurocase. 2012;18(6):527-36. doi: 10.1080/13554794.2011.633532. Epub 2012 Jan 9.

Time travel, re-experiencing past event, or pre-experiencing future events have been associated with frontal and temporal lobe changes.

Lavallee CF, Persinger MA. A LORETA study of mental time travel: similar and distinct electrophysiological correlates of re-experiencing past events and pre-experiencing future events.Conscious Cogn. 2010 Dec;19(4):1037-44.

Right temporal lobe changes when experiencing a “sensed presence.”

Booth JN, Persinger MA. Discrete shifts within the theta band between the frontal and parietal regions of the right hemisphere and the experiences of a sensed presence.J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2009 Summer;21(3):279-83.

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