Alien abduction is the purported kidnapping, usually for sinister medical or genetic experimentation, of humans by extraterrestrials. The first abduction stories appeared in the wake of revelations of contact with the occupants of flying saucers by writers such as George Adamski. As in the much-analyzed case of Betty and Barney Hill, details of the reported abductions were often elicited under hypnosis. Following the publication of John G. Fuller's The Interrupted Journey (1966)1, concerning the Hill incident, the number of claimed cases of alien abduction began to rise steeply. Interest in the subject was further stimulated by the release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (in which the alien kidnappers turn out to be benign).
By the 1980s, the abduction scenario, recounted ad nauseam in chat-show interviews and tabloid stories, had taken on a stereotypical pattern, involving a humiliating examination aboard the alien craft, the removal of sperm or ovum samples, and inter-species sexual relations. Abductees generally "recalled" their experiences as a result of hypnotic regression which, it was claimed, released memories that had been suppressed by a more innocuous recollection. The explosion in alien abduction claims was both accompanied and encouraged by an outpouring of popular literature, TV documentaries, and motion pictures sympathetic to the theme. Some plausibility, to a phenomenon that might otherwise have been quickly dismissed, was lent by the apparent sincerity of many claimants and the establishment of abductee support groups throughout the US.
By the late 1980s, a growing unease had set in with the concept of "recovered memories". Aside from abduction stories unearthed by hypnosis, there was an alarming growth of child sex-abuse claims. After attending therapy sessions, subjects would "remember" having been abused as children, usually by close relatives and involving satanic ritual. Courts had convicted, or awarded civil damages against, a number of "abusers" on the strength of recovered memories alone. Some of the accused had formed their own support groups and were suing therapists, sometimes successfully, for the ruin brought upon them by their grown-up children. Senior members of the American medical establishment began openly to cast doubt on the whole technique. However, in 1994, the endangered case for alien abduction was given an unexpected boost by the publication of a book by John Mack,2 professor of psychiatry at Harvard, which argued strongly in favor of the view that the abductions were real. Unfortunately for Mack, he was devastatingly criticized by his peers and had his case further undermined by the revelation that one of the subjects he described was a journalist on a debunking mission. Although the extraterrestrial option is given short shrift by the scientific community in general, alien abduction as a phenomenon with genuine psychological and possibly geophysical underpinnings has been the subject of a number of serious investigations and conferences.3, 4, 5 Even if aliens are not to blame, it may be that tales of abduction can shed valuable light on effects such as false memory syndrome and temporal lobe lability.
1. Fuller, John. The Interrupted Journey. New York: Berkley (1960).
2. Mack, John E. Abduction: Human Encounters With Aliens. New York: Scribner's (1992).
3. Klass, Philip J. UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus (1988).
4. Pritchard, Andrea. Alien Discussions (proceedings of the MIT Abduction Study Conference). Cambridge, Mass.: North Cambridge Press (1993).
5. Spanos, N. P., et al. "Close Encounters: An Examination of UFO Experiences," Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 102, 624 (1993).