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Investigation of the phenomenology and impact of perceived spontaneous and direct After-Death Communications (ADCs)

Executive summary

A spontaneous After-Death Communication (ADC) occurs when a mourner unexpectedly perceives a deceased person through the senses of sight, hearing, smell, or touch. Very commonly, experients solely “feel the presence” of the deceased person or perceive a contact or a communication during sleep or hypnagogic states. Perceived ADCs occur frequently, with an estimated 25-50% of mourners having experienced one or more spontaneous ADCs. Testimonies collected in different countries and since the last century suggest this phenomenon to be universal and timeless. Despite their widespread occurrence, perceived ADCs, paradoxically, have been little researched and are absent from the media and public discourse. As a consequence, persons who experience an ADC (experients) usually have no frame of reference in terms of which to understand, integrate and benefit fully from this experience which doesn’t match mainstream conceptions of reality. Whatever the ontological status of perceived ADCs might be, they are perceived as real by a great number of persons and therefore certainly deserve their place on the consciousness research agenda.

The objective of this 2-year research project is to gain a better understanding of the phenomenology and the impact of perceived spontaneous and direct After-Death Communications. On the basis of a specially designed online questionnaire, the data are expected to provide insights into the profile of the experients; the profile of the deceased person supposedly initiating the contact; the circumstances of occurrence; the type, unfolding and message of perceived ADCs; and their impact on experients. The outcome should permit disclosure of this hidden social phenomenon to the scientific community and the public by means of publications, conferences, and media events.


Estimated averages of 25% of Europeans and of 30-50% of Americans (Guggenheim and LaGrand) have experienced one or more spontaneous After-Death Communications (ADCs). Despite their widespread occurrence, perceived ADCs have paradoxically been little researched and are absent from the media and public discourse. As a consequence, persons who experience a perceived ADC (experients) usually have no frame of reference in terms of which to understand, integrate and benefit fully from this experience which doesn’t match mainstream conceptions of reality.

ADCs are common, supposedly universal, and have a strong and lasting psychological impact on experients. A better understanding of their phenomenology and impact is essential not only for experients but for the public at large, since these experiences provide a completely new perspective of death and life. The research project aims at bridging science and spirituality by shedding light on this major social phenomenon. Perceived After-Death Communications are not an isolated phenomenon but occur in the larger context of other experiences around death, such as death-bed visions which occur shortly before demise. This research project will contribute to the scientific inquiry of “unusual experiences” around death.

Research objectives

The first objective is to describe the phenomenology of perceived ADCs. The project will therefore answer the following questions: Who has an ADC? Under which circumstances? In what form (type)? How do these experiences unfold? What are the messages of ADCs? Who are the deceased persons supposedly initiating the contact? What was/is their relation with the experients? Are there differences between countries? Research questions will be elaborated further on the basis of a thorough review of the existing research literature on ADCs.

The second objective is to analyse the impact of perceived ADCs on experients. The following questions will be addressed: How do experients experience ADCs? What is the impact on experients? How does it influence the grieving process? Does the national and social context influence individuals’ experiences?

The third objective will consist in disseminating the research results as largely as possible to the scientific community and the general public. By collecting information about how perceived ADCs occur and unfold, and by analysing their impact on individuals’ lives, we aim at making these results accessible to people who face the death of a close relative, partner or friend, and to the broad public. Following an applied research orientation, we will emphasize in our conclusions the relevance of our results for the public, and highlight the possible policy implications. The research project will contribute to raising awareness about perceived ADCs and have a practical impact on a large number of persons.

Considering the lack of research and knowledge on ADCs, we expect the results of this exploratory research to open up further questions. Therefore the project could also enable us to specify new research hypotheses which may be pursued in the future in the frame of a large scale research, involving research teams in different countries.

Data and methodology

The research will be led in several European countries (Switzerland, France, the United Kingdom and Spain) and the United States. The analysis and comparison of data of the 200 participants will provide insight into the supposedly universal nature of this phenomenon, making this the first comparative ADC research.

Participants will be invited to complete an online survey about the perceived ADC they experienced and about some key socioeconomic characteristics. This data will allow us, using descriptive statistics, to depict the main characteristics about our sample and the different profiles of ADC experients.

The main themes of the questionnaire are the following : circumstances of occurrence, type of ADC, message conveyed, emotions and sense of reality associated with the experience, impact and implications for the grieving process; profile of the experient, and profile of the deceased person perceived (including cause of death).

Finally, for participants who will have previously agreed to the anonymized publication of their testimonies, the collected data will be archived in a multi-lingual, international, open access database, hosted and up-dated by the University of Northampton. This database will eventually be available on a dedicated website to the scientific community for further analysis and to the broad public, in order to make the perceived ADC phenomenon more visible in society.


Project team

Evelyn Elsaesser

Specialist of experiences related to death, author

Project leader
Chris Roe

Professor, Centre Lead for the Psychology and Social Sciences Research Centre, Faculty of Health & Society, University of Northampton UK

Principal investigator
Lluis Pastor

Professor, Estudios de Ciencias de la Información y la Comunicación de la Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) & Director general Oberta Publishing y Editorial UOC, Spain

Team member
Cal Cooper

PhD, Lecturer in Psychology,
School of Social Sciences, Psychology
University of Northampton, UK

Team member

Scientific Committee

Professor emeritus Kenneth Ring, University of Connecticut, U.S.A.
Professor Peter Fenwick, M.D., F.R.C. Psych. Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College, London, U.K. Mental Health Group, University of Southampton, U.K.
Professor J. Kim Penberthy, Chester F. Carlson Professor of Psychiatry & Neurobehavioral Sciences, Division of Perceptual Studies, University of Virginia, School of Medicine, Charlottesville, VA, USA
David Lorimer, Scientific and Medical Network (SMN), U.K.