Captured by Aliens? A History and Analysis of American Abduction Claims, by Nigel Watson

Chris French
Chris French
Chris French is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is also Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit. He frequently appears on radio and television casting a sceptical eye over paranormal claims. He writes for the Guardian and The Skeptic magazine and is a former Editor of the latter. His most recent book is Anomalistic Psychology: Exploring Paranormal Belief and Experience.

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Captured by Aliens? A History and Analysis of American Abduction Claims provides an excellent introduction to the fascinating phenomena of alleged alien contact and abduction covering all the important aspects: the history of the phenomena, notable cases (especially that of Betty and Barney Hill), psychological aspects, and alien movies and TV.

Readers should be aware that this is a revised version of Watson’s book, The Alien Deception: An Exploration of the Alien Abduction Phenomenon, self-published in 2009. I just checked and the latter is going for a mere £242.20 on Amazon (but that is with free delivery). Even the revised edition is not cheap at £33.69 for what is a relatively slim volume (206 pages) but, if you are thinking of buying this volume, I would definitely recommend that you save yourself £208.51 by purchasing this revised edition – or, even better, the Kindle version if you are appropriately technologically equipped.

Of course, the fact that this is a revised edition immediately raises the question of how extensively the previous edition has been revised – and unfortunately the answer appears to be “not very much”. There is a long list of “Further Reading and Notes” at the end of the book but I only counted about a dozen that were post-2009. It is possible that there are actually a few more than that as there is no indication of the date on which many of the websites listed were actually accessed but even if this is the case, it is clear that the vast majority of references are pre-2010. This strikes me as a missed opportunity given that the number of serious academic publications on these topics in the last decade is small and it would have taken relatively little effort to have included some discussion of them and thus presented the reader with a volume summarising the current “state of the art”.

Captured by Aliens? A History and Analysis of American Abduction Claims, by Nigel Watson

As you might expect, what with me being a psychologist and everything, I was particularly interested in the contents of the chapter on the psychology of abductions. Watson presents reasonable (and critical) discussions of the main psychological factors that have been discussed in the academic literature including the dangers of using hypnotic regression to “recover” memories of alien abduction, the probable role sleep paralysis, temporal lobe epilepsy, tectonic strain theory, earthlights, electronic pollution, mass hysteria, and social context. There is some discussion of the notion that some claims of alien contact and abduction may be based upon false memories resulting from the inappropriate use of hypnotic regression. But there are several direct experimental investigations of the possibility that such claimants may have a more generalised susceptibility to false memories (even without the use of hypnotic regression) that are not mentioned at all. This includes a number of peer-reviewed papers in high-quality journals by internationally recognised memory experts at Harvard University, Maastricht University, and the University of Warwick, as well as a group from the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths (but modesty forbids me from naming names).

Despite the above criticisms, I still think this book provides an excellent overview of the topic, especially if you are not already familiar with the work of writers such as Hilary Evans, Peter Brookesmith, Philip Klass, Jenny Randles, David Clarke, and Andy Roberts (to name but a few). To be honest, things have not changed that much with respect to these phenomena since 2009. It is just a pity that Watson did not include much coverage of those few additional publications that have appeared in the last decade.

Captured by Aliens? A History and Analysis of American Abduction Claims. By Nigel Watson. McFarland & Company: Jefferson, NC, 2020. ISBN: 978-1-4766-8141-2. Paperback, £33.69 (Kindle edition on Amazon: £13.99)

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