Psychological Research

, Volume 82, Issue 4, pp 806–818 | Cite as

False memory susceptibility in coma survivors with and without a near-death experience

  • Charlotte MartialEmail author
  • Vanessa Charland-Verville
  • Hedwige Dehon
  • Steven Laureys
Original Article


It has been postulated that memories of near-death experiences (NDEs) could be (at least in part) reconstructions based on experiencers’ (NDErs) previous knowledge and could be built as a result of the individual’s attempt to interpret the confusing experience. From the point of view of the experiencer, NDE memories are perceived as being unrivalled memories due to its associated rich phenomenology. However, the scientific literature devoted to the cognitive functioning of NDErs in general, and their memory performance in particular, is rather limited. This study examined NDErs’ susceptibility to false memories using the Deese–Roediger–McDermott (DRM) paradigm. We included 20 NDErs who reported having had their experience in the context of a life-threatening event (Greyson NDE scale total score ≥7/32) and 20 volunteers (matched for age, gender, education level, and time since brain insult) who reported a life-threatening event but without a NDE. Both groups were presented with DRM lists for a recall task during which they were asked to assign “Remember/Know/Guess” judgements to any recalled response. In addition, they were later asked to complete a post-recall test designed to obtain estimates of activation and monitoring of critical lures. Results demonstrated that NDErs and volunteers were equally likely to produce false memories, but that NDErs recalled them more frequently associated with compelling illusory recollection. Of particular interest, analyses of activation and monitoring estimates suggest that NDErs and volunteers groups were equally likely to think of critical lures, but source monitoring was less successful in NDErs compared to volunteers.



The authors would like to thank our subjects for contributing their time to participate in this study. The authors thank Dr. Frank Larøi and Dr. Armand Mensen for reviewing the manuscript and providing their insightful comments.

Compliance with ethical standards


This study was funded by the Belgian National Funds for Scientific Research (FNRS), the French Speaking Community Concerted Research Action (ARC–06/11–340), NSERC discovery grant, IAP research network P7/06 of the Belgian Government (Belgian Science Policy), the European Commission, the James McDonnell Foundation, Mind Science Foundation, and the European space agency (ESA).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Coma Science Group, GIGA Research Center and Neurology DepartmentUniversity and University Hospital of LiègeLiègeBelgium
  2. 2.Cognitive and Behavioral Clinical Psychology Unit, Psychology and Neuroscience of Cognition Research Unit (PsyNCog)University of LiègeLiègeBelgium

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