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Near-death experience less intense for combat soldiers, study finds

After experiencing a close brush with death or being in a life-threatening situation, some people report leaving their bodies, seeing a replay of their lives, encountering dead loved ones or religious figures or seeing a bright light.

This phenomenon is known as a near-death experience, and is reported thousands of times each year in the United States. And while there has been wide-ranging research on near-death experiences in civilian populations, studies with combat soldiers are limited.

A study conducted by Tracy Goza, a doctoral candidate in the College of Education, breaks ground in its findings that combat soldiers have different near-death experiences than civilians.

Goza is the first researcher to compare the contents of combat near-death experiences with near-death experiences reported by civilians.

The most surprising difference Goza found was that combat near-death experiences have less depth than non-combat near-death experiences, meaning soldiers tend to experience fewer or less intense features of near-death experiences than civilians.

Those features can include the sense of being out of one’s body; feelings of peace, joy or bliss; and encountering dead loved ones or spiritual figures.

The difference in depth may be attributed to several factors, including combat soldiers living with more stress for longer periods of time than civilians, or may be the result of combat veterans offering cautious accounts of their near-death experiences due to social stigmas or other concerns.

Other findings include greater changes in spirituality among combat veterans who  reported a near-death experience versus those who did not, and those who reported a near-death experience more often expressed a greater appreciation for life than those who did not.

Goza’s interest in near-death experience research was piqued by College of Education professor Jan Holden, who has done extensive research on the subject. For her own study Goza chose to focus on combat soldiers for a personal reason: Her husband Jonathan Goza served with the U.S. Army in Iraq.

“I chose this research topic on combat near-death experiences because I was extremely interested in Dr. Holden’s work, and at the time my husband was deployed to Iraq,” Goza said.  

Posted on: Mon 11 July 2011

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