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Gordeeva O.V. (2021). Comparison of free description and semi-structured interview as methods of studying near-death experience, [Natsional’nyy psikhologicheskiy zhurnal], 2 (42), 36–50. doi: 10.11621/npj.2021.0204


Relevance of the article. Without the use of the self-report method, it is impossible to study a number of psychological phenomena (for example, hallucinosis, the study of which allows us to understand the mechanisms of formation of perceptual, dream, mnestic, imaginative images). At the same time, the possibilities and limitations of two variants of the self-report method — an interview about the experience and its free description — are not sufficiently studied in psychology. Our work is devoted to the study of this issue by comparing the results obtained using both variants of the method of retrospective self-report. The material of this study was the near-death experience (NDE) — an altered state of consciousness experienced during a brush with death, including a specific pattern of psychological phenomena — elements of NDE or their components (including, in particular, hallucinosis), joined by the script of “journey to other world”.

The aim of our work was to study the differences in the frequency of mentioning certain NDE phenomena in the free description of this experience and when answering questions about these phenomena during interviews.

Description of the study. During the personal meeting, the Respondent first told about their NDE in a free form, then researcher asked him about the presence of a certain phenomenon in his NDE, based on a list of NDE elements/ components (37 questions). This elements/components were both interview items and independent parameters for subsequent analysis of the received protocols (45 protocols). For each phenomenon, a four-cell table was formed, which separately counted: 1) the number of cases of the phenomenon both in the free description and in the responses to interview questions; 2) the number of cases when the phenomenon was not spontaneously mentioned, but was detected during the interview, 3) the number of cases when the phenomenon was present in the free description, but the Respondent denied its presence in the interview, 4) the number of cases when the phenomenon was not spontaneously mentioned, and its presence was denied in the interview). To assess the significance of the differences between the data obtained in the free description and in the interview, we used the Gilford φ-coefficient of correlation, calculating for each phenomenon the critical (for p < 0.01 and for p < 0.05) and empirical values of the φ-coefficient.

Research results. First, a number of phenomena have been found that do not show significant differences (for p < 0.01) between the methods of free description and semi-structured interview: a sense of peace and calm; the appearance of unusual auditory sensations, a person’s understanding that he has died, an out-of-body experience (OBE), a dark tunnel, perception of the surrounding reality during OBE, seeing a bright light, meeting with it, meeting with others, visions of a different reality, a luminous being, a sense of unity, a review of life, a border or limit, a decision to return, a return. Second, the identified phenomena for which there are significant (p < 0.01) differences between the methods of free descriptions and semi-structured interview is — ineffability of NDE, its realness, its memorability, unwillingness to tell others about this experience, its transformative effects, the emergence of a new attitude to death and life after this experience, the disappearance of auditory sensations, transcendence, changes in experiences of time.

Summary. Thus, the limitations of the free description method depend on the specific material for which the method is used. When studying the frequency of occurrence of NDE phenomena, it is necessary to combine the method of free description with the interview method, which helps not only to detect the presence of the phenomenon itself, but also to clarify its content and to avoid cases of misinterpretation of what the researcher heard.

Received: 03/27/2021
Accepted: 05/31/2021
Pages: 36-50
DOI: 10.11621/npj.2021.0204


Keywords: altered states of consciousness; near-death experience; hallucinosis; study methods; self-report; semi-structured interview; free description

Available Online 30.06.2021


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For citing this article:

Gordeeva O.V. (2021). Comparison of free description and semi-structured interview as methods of studying near-death experience, [Natsional’nyy psikhologicheskiy zhurnal], 2 (42), 36–50. doi: 10.11621/npj.2021.0204

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