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Psychologists investigate out-of-body experiences

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Brigid Veale
Published
27 June 2007
Leading psychologists from Switzerland and Germany will present research on topics including out-of-body experiences at a one-day symposium hosted by Southern Cross University in Sydney on July 3.

The International Intersensory Research Symposium is one of the events organised by HCSNet, a Human Communication Science Network established in 2004 with funding from the Australian Research Council. The Perception and Action arm of HCSNet is directed by Associate Professor Rick van der Zwan, from Southern Cross University. Professor van der Zwan is also the convenor of the symposium.

HCSNet’s aim is to promote interdisciplinary research in sciences focusing on human communication, including speech, language and sonics, as well as connecting leading and emerging Australian researchers. The network aims to build Australia's reputation as a leader in communication science and technology via advances in areas such as speech, effective human-computer interfaces, next generation research technology, human communication disorders, and human and machine perception and action.

Dr Anna Brooks, a lecturer in Southern Cross University's Department of Psychology, said the aim of the symposium was to provide an intimate forum in which researchers from around the globe could discuss the effects of intersensory processing on perception and action.

“This is a unique opportunity for established researchers as well as students to take stock of current findings and anticipate avenues of future intersensory research,” Dr Brooks said.

The keynote speakers are Professor Heinrich Buelthoff, from the Max-Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Germany, and Professor Olaf Blanke, from the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience, Brain-Mind Institute, in Switzerland.

Professor Buelthoff works with biologists, computer scientists, mathematicians, physicists and psychologists to study cognitive processes including object recognition and categorisation, sensory-motor integration and spatial cognition.

“The superior performance of natural over artificial intelligence rests on the ability of the human brain to integrate and process complex sensory information for useful actions. Future advances in our understanding of the human brain will need integrating approaches across disciplines, including psychology, computer science, robotics, and neuroimaging,” Professor Buelthoff said.

Research at the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (located in Lausanne overlooking Lake Geneva and the French Alps) is carried out by a multidisciplinary team of biologists, psychologists, medical doctors, physicists, engineers and computer scientists.

Professor Blanke’s work focuses on the functional and neural mechanisms of body perception, corporeal awareness, and self consciousness.

“In close collaboration with the Department of Neurology (University Hospital of Geneva) we investigate several neurological conditions relevant to body perception, corporeal awareness, and self consciousness: illusory own body perceptions (out-of-body experiences, autoscopy), disturbed own body recognition (feeling-of-a presence, paranoia, asomatognosia, somatoparaphrenia), mental imagery deficits, visual and auditory disturbances and agnosias (motion blindness, motion deafness), and visuo-spatial and attentional deficits (neglect, extinction, alloesthesia),” he said.

Southern Cross University’s Department of Psychology, based at the Coffs Harbour campus, is one of the key research centres involved in the network. Intersensory integration of information relevant to interpreting the movement of others is one key area of research and is conducted in collaboration with an international team that includes Professor Blanke's group in Switzerland.

The conference will be held at the Hotel InterContinental, Sydney, on July 3.


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