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Near Death Experiences are Real: Brain Shows Signs of Electrical Surges

Update Date: Aug 14, 2013 09:34 AM EDT

The concept of a near death experience is often played out in movies. Before a character dies in an emotional scene, there is often a bright white light that shows up. Although these movies have overplayed that death scene or a near death scene with blinding lights and often flashbacks, studying how the few moments before death is difficult. In a new study, researchers set out to do exactly that. The researchers found that for mice, immediately after the heart stops beating, there is an electrical surge in the dying brain that is characterized by high levels of brainwaves.

"A lot of people thought that the brain after clinical death was inactive or hypoactive, with less activity than the waking state, and we show that this is definitely not the case," Dr. Jimo Borijigin, the lead author, said according to BBC News. Borijigin is from the University of Michigan. "If anything, it is much more active during the dying process than even the walking state."

For this study, the research team from the University closely monitored nine dying rats that were all euthanized. The researchers discovered that within the first 30 seconds after the rats' hearts stopped working, there was a drastic increase in gamma oscillations, which are high-frequency brainwaves. These waves have been associated with humans' consciousness. The team also found that these waves were higher than normal after the rats suffered from a cardiac arrest but were awake.

"Now science tells us the experiences really could be real for these individuals, and there is actually biological basis for that," Borjigin said according to NPR. "There's a scientific basis in their brain. It's all really happening in their brain during this very early period of cardiac arrest."

Although the experiment done on rats might help researchers explain what happens before and after a near death experience in humans, researchers acknowledge that the information is still limiting. In order to fully understand this experience for humans, there would need to be a clinical trial.

"This can give us a framework to begin to explain these. The fact they see light perhaps indicates the visual cortex in the brain is highly activated - and we have evidence to suggest this might be the case, because we have seen increased gamma in area of the brain that is right on top of the visual cortex," Borijigin said. "We have seen increased coupling between the lower-frequency waves and the gamma that has been shown to be a feature of visual awareness and visual sensation."

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

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