Ego boundaries, shamanic-like techniques, and subjective experience: An experimental study

Anthropology of Consciousness 19 (1):60-83 (2008)
Abstract
The subjective effects and therapeutic potential of the shamanic practice of journeying is well known. However, previous research has neglected to provide a comprehensive assessment of the subjective effects of shamanic-like journeying techniques on non-shamans. Shamanic-like techniques are those that demonstrate some similarity to shamanic practices and yet deviate from what may genuinely be considered shamanism. Furthermore, the personality traits that influence individual susceptibility to shamanic-like techniques are unclear. The aim of the present study was, thus, to investigate experimentally the effect of shamanic-like techniques and a personality trait referred to as "ego boundaries" on subjective experience including mood disturbance. Forty-three non-shamans were administered a composite questionnaire consisting of demographic items and a measure of ego boundaries (i.e., the Short Boundary Questionnaire; BQ-Sh). Participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: listening to monotonous drumming for 15 minutes coupled with one of two sets of journeying instructions; or sitting quietly with eyes closed for 15 minutes. Participants' subjective experience and mood disturbance were retrospectively assessed using the Phenomenology of Consciousness Inventory (PCI) and the Profile of Mood States-Short Form, respectively. The results indicated that there was a statistically significant difference between conditions with regard to the PCI major dimensions of visual imagery, attention and rationality, and minor dimensions of imagery amount and absorption. However, the shamanic-like conditions were not associated with a major reorganization of the pattern of subjective experience compared to the sitting quietly condition, suggesting that what is typically referred to as an altered state of consciousness effect was not evident. One shamanic-like condition and the BQ-Sh subscales need for order, childlikeness, and sensitivity were statistically significant predictors of total mood disturbance. Implications of the findings for the anthropology of consciousness are also considered.
Keywords personality  mood  subjective experience  ego boundaries  shamanic
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