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Chapter 7a

How Definitions Impact the Incidence of Déjà Vu

…most research has required only affirmative/negative answers—i.e. ‘present’ (yes: déjà vu has occurred), ‘absent’ (no: it has not). These may lead to misinterpretations of what is and what is not déjà vu experience. The validity of the interpretation of the subject’s response is consequently questioned. Adequate research in this area requires at least the elucidation of concrete examples so that one can clarify that déjà vu is in fact what is being described using standard criteria. This has only been done consistently in one study, my own.3, 4 Only two other studies provided any such opportunity—both inadequately. In Leeds’ original work, he only asked for amplification inconsistently and did not have standardized criteria.1 In another study by myself (1979),4 people were given the opportunity to describe their experiences so as to evaluate whether or not they had actually occurred, but as the Screening Questions were asked in a group situation, this opportunity was largely academic. Thus denial of or admitting to déjà vu is not equivalent to actually having had a déjà vu experience.

Another possible important cause for a lowered incidence of déjà vu is routinization of the experience: People may have had déjà vu experiences but they may have become so routinized that they are not recalled. Furthermore, interpretations of what constitutes déjà vu may be radically different—a subject may have had such experiences, and may recall them, but not regard them as déjà vu (even so much as to verbalize them to researchers). When he walks into a vaguely familiar room for the first time, he might rationalize it by saying, “it’s like John Smith’s flat—it is similar or identical to it—so therefore this wasn’t really inappropriate familiarity.” Another person may regard this identical experience as déjà vu. Such differential responses to déjà vu experiences probably depend on psychological and sociological perspectives: For example, intelligence, general education and awareness of the occurrence of the phenomenon all may predispose.

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