Psychologists open up about ‘Felt Presence’ phenomenon

Have you ever felt a presence?/Shutterstock Images

24 February 2023, London: The psychological phenomenon of the ‘Felt Presence’, the sensation that someone is near you without any sensory evidence, is the subject of a PsychCrunch podcast released yesterday by the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest.

Psychologists like Ben Alderson-Day, who is interviewed in the podcast, are interested in ‘Felt Presence’ in terms of neural connectivity, in people with brain injury, for people in bereavement, and in the experience of sleep paralysis, but also in healthy people who are awake.

The Felt Presence (FP) experience, also called “the third man effect” ranges from benevolent to distressing, personal to ambiguous; FP has been observed in endurance sports, within psychosis and in spiritualist communities

Explorer Ernest Shackleton and two men on their Antarctic expedition in 1916 had a “companion” during their trek, he said in his diaries there were “four men, not three” crossing Elephant Island’s interior, the silent presence of a real person that all three men on the expedition reported, an uncanny experience, “which can never be spoken of.”

Accounts of the FP describe a spiritual and transcendental experience that can’t be described by ordinary language. In his book, The Third Man Factor, John Geiger collected a wide range of felt presence stories. The phenomenon is often triggered by extreme physical conditions, threat to life, social isolation and often feels as if it has a spiritual or guiding purpose.

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