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Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens Paperback – March 26, 2007

3.4 out of 5 stars 56 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

If you're going to read just one book about alien abductions, make it this one. And if you think alien abduction stories aren't worth considering seriously, Clancy will convince you otherwise. A postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Harvard, she follows the dictum of William James to "take 'weird beliefs' seriously but not literally." Thus, she considers that the belief that one has been abducted by little gray beings with large, black catlike eyes, subjected to intrusive and painful physical examinations and exploited to create hybrid human/alien babies serves the deep human need to find meaning in one's life. She presents clear explorations of what most mainstream experts believe are the sources of the abduction story, such as sleep paralysis and the dubious use of hypnosis in "recovering" forgotten memories of the abduction. Her more original contribution, based on her own research, is that abductees score high on measures of schizotypy (they're far from schizophrenic, but are prone to fantasy and "magical" thinking) and, more speculatively, experiencing what in the 19th century was called hysteria. Writing in a nonacademic and witty style, Clancy offers an intelligent and compassionate look at people whose "weird" belief usually elicits derision, and argues convincingly for the need to look deeper into its significance. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Scientific American

One dark night in 1961 an event occurred that opened a new chapter in paranormal psychology: two Americans were, they later claimed, abducted by aliens. Similar claims have been coming ever since. Susan A. Clancy, a Harvard psychologist who describes herself as "a reluctant scholar of alienology," has investigated many of them and written this short, insightful and often funny description of abductees and the psychology behind their experiences. Clancy is never condescending toward the 50 subjects she interviewed; she simply asks questions, listens and then presents her own carefully reasoned explanation for why they might believe they were abducted. Fortunately, Clancy is well equipped to understand strange events. She has not only studied hypnosis but experienced it and the false memories it can "recover." She has also awoken to the terror of "sleep paralysis," an unusual state in which an individual perceives senses as if she is awake but is unable to move because parts of the brain are still asleep; hallucinations are common. Clancy believes this phenomenon, which typically lasts about a minute, is behind most of her subjects’ narratives. Many share the same basic storyline: the person awakens in the dark with aliens moving around her and is transported to a spaceship, where she is subject to medical or sexual experiments. Abductees may be able to recall every detail or instead only "know" that it happened. In quests to make sense of the traumatic experience, they usually read up on abductions and seek therapists who will help them recover and understand their memories of the event—often through hypnosis. Frequently they associate with fellow abductees, either in person or online. Clancy gained access to this faith-based community in the simplest possible way: she put an ad in the newspaper asking, "Have you been abducted by aliens?" She interviewed her subjects at length and gave those who volunteered various tests to reveal any mental health problems (only one person qualified) and how susceptible they were to false memories. The book explains how individuals can have memories of events that never occurred and describes the types of people who are more likely to become believers. In a nutshell, they are fantasy-prone and are often unhappy and trying to make sense of their lives. The abduction provides a touchstone. At the very end, and with obvious reluctance, Clancy concludes that abduction beliefs provide "the same things that millions of people the world over derive from their religions: meaning, reassurance, mystical revelation, spirituality, transformation."

Jonathan Beard --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067402401X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674024014
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #734,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In the past few decades (and significantly, not before that time) there have been stories from people who have been abducted by aliens, probed, sampled, and disgorged back to try to figure out what happened. There have been those who have taken these stories at face value, most famously the late Harvard psychiatrist John Mack, who said that there was no evidence that such abductees were telling anything but the truth. Skeptics and most of his fellow academics scoffed. Now Susan Clancy, a Harvard psychologist, has written about her own researches into participants in the phenomenon. _Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens_ (Harvard University Press) explains such abductions in a way that skeptics will appreciate. However, Clancy also shows respect for the abductees she investigated, appreciating their viewpoints and explaining without condescension how such ideas came to be. The book will convert few abductees from their belief system (and Clancy shows why such a belief system is so satisfying and firmly held), but it goes far to show that they are not stupid or psychotic and they are not just seeking publicity.

As far as the physical reality of such abductions, Clancy (unlike Mack) is firmly in the skeptics' corner, and gives reasons to be sure that no such events are happening, and if they are happening, extraordinary evidence is needed make the events credible; no one has come close to producing such evidence. But she points out, the proper scientific response is not, "Why investigate abduction since it is not really happening?" but rather "What sort of people are reporting being abducted, and why?
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Format: Hardcover
FAIR WARNING: This excellent, well-written book isn't really about aliens at all -- it's about the psychological mechanisms that drive the human memory machine. If you're looking for a lively debate about the existence, or non-existence, of alien visitors to Earth, find another writer.

Susan Clancy is a post-doctoral fellow in psychology at Harvard University. She has also worked in Nicaragua as an economic development advisor. She doesn't believe in extra-terrestrial visitors and she's very open about that from the get-go.

The real purpose of her research, as documented in this book, is to determine what "abductees" have in common from a psychological standpoint -- to answer these five questions:

-- How do people come to believe they were abducted by aliens? In other words, how did these imaginary "memories" come to exist in the first place?
-- Why do abductees have memories if it didn't really happen?
-- Why are abduction stories so consistent? (They're not.)
-- Who gets abducted?
-- If it didn't happen, why would an abductee want to believe it?

At the risk of over-simplification, Clancy's answer is this: Virtually all abduction reports were reported only AFTER Hollywood and the publishing industry popularized this type of narrative, starting in the late 1940s and continuing in the 1960s - 1980s. Most abductees are not insane or psychotic, but they do test very high on objective laboratory measuresments for what is called "schizotypy" -- the tendency to think eccentrically and to believe in "magical thinking" (e.g., that certain numbers have magical powers). They're often loners who are very interested in UFO studies and other paranormal phenomenon long before they claim to have been abducted.
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Format: Hardcover
Clancy's style in ABDUCTED is light and friendly with plainly-presented facts. She comes across as down-to-earth and self-aware (e.g., "I got a grip and shut up," pg 28). Her sympathetic but unswerving conclusions are a relief in this contentious area. Thanks to her book, I no longer find abductees exasperating but can respect and find common ground with them. I'd like to repay Clancy for this welcome book by rebutting a few reviewer criticisms.

For example, reviewers objected that the Hills and the Allagash abductees were awake and in groups, thus their experiences can't be explained as the effects of "sleep paralysis". But those examples, given by the reviewers, exactly fit Clancy's algorithm (pgs 33, 51) for wakeful abductions! (1) They were not immediately aware of being abducted and (2) only decided weeks later that they "must've" been taken. (3) Before gaining their memories they actively collected UFO information, and (4) both groups recovered their memories in hypnosis.

Giese complained that "many abductees recall vast portions of their experience(s) w/o the aid of hypnosis." Clancy beat him to it by noting that although it's less common, non-hypnotic recovery occurs (pg 58) and any memories can grow in detail over time (pg 68).

Giese also sneered: "Interesting that many abductees want to believe their experience was NOT real." But identifying possible benefits of unpleasant abduction-memories is a key product of the book! (1) The memories explain many troubling things in an abductee's life (pg 33); (2) these exonerative explanations can't be disproved (pg 145); (3) the experiences can expand an abductee's worldview to "awe-inspiring" degrees (pg 149); and (4) the memories can make an abductee feel "chosen" or "special" and bring outside attention (pg 140).
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