The Compelling Effects of Simply Staring: Understanding the Scientology Mindset Part 13

stareDissociation and hallucinations in dyads engaged through
interpersonal gazing | Giovanni B. Caputo| Psychiatry Research 228 (2015) 659-663   Download Full Text as .pdf

In plain language, this scientific paper describes a series of experiments which investigate the psychological consequences of two people (a dyad) staring at each other for a period of time (in this case, no longer than 10 minutes).

The author concludes that this can bring about visual hallucinations and a dissociated state, including a feeling of being disconnected from your body.

This is highly relevant to the ‘Training Routines’ (TR’s) taught to beginners in Scientology and Narconon – especially “TR0 Confronting“which is described on the linked page. During this exercise participants (who stare  at each other for two hours or more) commonly recruit strange hallucinations and a feeling of leaving their body.

Note: page numbers given are from the .pdf reader software, not the article itself.

The Psychological Effects of Simply Staring

This work builds on the author’s previous work to develop a technique that would induce temporary and harmless dissociation in volunteers, so that psychologists could study a mental state which is otherwise difficult to observe.

Dissociation takes place when mental processes no longer work together, leading to a feeling of detachment from reality. Sometimes this results in false perceptions, because the dissociated mind cannot properly process what its senses are telling it.

Caputo’s first experiments  involved subjects who stared into a mirror for 10 minutes. This successfully produced feelings of dissociation. The induced symptoms went away after about 15 minutes and had no lasting effects (but don’t try it at home).

During this work, Caputo found that “mirror gazing” produced some strange mental effects including,

[…] hallucination-like illusions. Strange-face apparitions are both hallucination-like and temporary phenomena, with a frequency of about 2 illusions per minute and their duration of about 4–7 s per illusion (pg 1).

TR group

Scientology’s Version of
“Interpersonal Gazing”

In the experiment described in this paper, 20 healthy young individuals were asked to stare at each other for the same period (10 minutes).

In the experimental group, the pair of participants sat in two chairs positioned one in front of the other. A distance of about a metre separated the heads of the  dyad. After a few minutes of light adaptation, they receive the following (dissociation) instructions: “You should maintain a neutral facial expression. Your task is to look at the other participant; you should keep staring into the eyes of the other participant. The session will last10 min.” (pg2)

This is very similar to the positions adopted by Scientologists during the second Scientology Training Routine (“TR0 confronting”) .

Caputo administered standardised tests measuring dissociation to the participants, and found that the dissociative effect of staring at another person was significantly greater than that obtained by staring into a mirror (pg4).

‘Strange Face Apparitions’ in Scientology

Caputo asked his healthy volunteers to stare at each other for 10 minutes, and monitored them carefully for signs of distress (at which point the experiment would be immediately terminated).

Scientologists are required to stare at each other for at least two hours before they can pass ‘TR0 Confronting’. If they experience distress they are likely to be strongly encouraged to continue, possibly quoting L R Hubbard’s advice that, “The way out is the way through”.

hallucinationCaputo’s subjects reported  “strange face apparitions” and ex-Scientologists will recount similar experiences.

These apparitions are also described by the sociologist William Simms Bainbridge. He was taking a beginner’s Scientology course as part of his research in a the Process Church (a group which split from L Ron Hubbard). In the resultant book, “Satan’s Power: A Deviant Psychotherapy Cult” (1992) Bainbridge observes that,

TR-0 could also produce an altered state of consciousness. One time I did it with a young man from Kentucky, an English teacher I happened to like. We sat staring at each other for two hours, which is 120 minutes, which is 7,200 seconds. A long time to stare into someone’s face, allowed to breathe and blink occasionally, but never look away, never smile or fidget.

Afterward my partner exclaimed excitedly that he had seen me change before his very eyes! I had become different persons — a savage with a bone through my nose, then a decayed corpse covered with filth and cobwebs. He was sure these were glimpses of my previous incarnations. Everyone in the [Scientology] center was pleased and complimented him on his perceptions. His interpretations fitted the cult’s ideology exactly. (pp204-206)

People who took part in Caputo’s experiment had similar experiences. They reported a number of ‘strange face illusions’ which Caputo categorised as: own face, dark face, spiritual face, animal face, monster face, deformed face, stranger face, luminous face, different race face and hero face (pg1). The similarities with Bainbridge’s account are striking.

Dissociation and Exteriorization

Bainbridge also observed that,astral-projection

Some participants say they “exteriorize” while in TR-0. When a person exteriorizes, his spirit leaves his body temporarily, perhaps hovering a short distance from his head. The concept is akin to “astral projection.” […] In psychiatric terms, this seems to be a state of general dissociation.  (pp206 – 207).

The Importance of Interpretation

The illusions experienced by Caputo’s subjects were both powerful and new to them.

Participants belonging to the dissociation group described that they had a compelling experience that they never had before. (pg 2)

Bainbridge also experienced some strange things when he did TR0, but noting as strange as his teacher friend, because he interpreted his experience in psychological term.

I did not tell him what I had seen. He, too, had changed. A halo of light had grown around his face. He had become pale and two-dimensional, shimmering, covered with dark spots. Of course, I interpreted what I saw as simple eye fatigue. He and I had experienced the same stimuli but understood them differently.  (pp204-206)

Like Bainbridge, Caputo’s subjects likely interpreted their altered states of consciousness as an interesting altered state of consciousness – but what about people with no specialised knowledge who take a Scientology course and also have “compelling” experiences?

Some people taking their first steps in Scientology find the hallucinations they experience in TR0 frightening. Others may have a profound, even numinous, experience that appears to give them great insight into life and their place in the universe. Like Bainbridge’s friend (the teacher from Kentucky) they will then have their experience framed in terms of Scientology, not psychology.

As Bainbridge pointed out,

Unusual experiences[…], perceived within the definitions provided by the cult, are powerful conversion mechanisms. (pp 204-206).

In other words, some people might conclude that ‘there must be something in it’ because Scientology had given them  a new and extraordinary experience. They may also go on to accept the explanations given to them by Scientologists.

For example Bainbridge noted above that some people felt that they had left their body during TR0 and observed that “In psychiatric terms, this seems to be a state of general dissociation.” Scientologists are taught to believe that they actually do leave their bodies. They not only  have an handy name for this (‘exteriorization’) but also a doctrine which ‘explains’ what is happening –  Scientology training is enabling your immortal, incorporeal essence (or ‘Thetan’) to leave your body and roam at will.

supFinally, there the element of social pressure. The Scientologists supervising newcomers ‘training’ will present themselves as experts, praise the student’s  ‘progress’ and encourage them to continue.

The will also disapprove of alternative explanations.

Other Scientologists will treat potential recruits as if they have just done something of great significance, and offer encouragement and support as long as they accept Scientology’s teachings.

Soon, the recruit starts to think of himself as a member of this social group, and does not want to disappoint his new friends. He or she may, gradually, come to think of themselves as a Scientologist and, once that happens, the process of ‘conversion’ is complete.

Dissociation and Auditing

If a recruit masters the TRs they will be required to practice them throughout the career in Scientology. Eventually, they will move on the central practice of Scientology, which is Auditing (using the e-meter). During auditing, Scientologists are encouraged to ‘experience’ previous lives – and commonly claim to have done so.

In the Scientific paper discussed here, Caputo found a way to induce a dissociated state so that psychologists could study it. His method is, for all intents and purposes, identical to ‘TR0 confronting’. It’s feasible that Scientologists, after regularly practising TR0 and a number of similar TRs, can induce a dissociated state in themselves, almost at will.

Caputo notes on pg1 that depersonalisation is associated with dissociation, and this state of mind would certainly help them to achieve the expected result from auditing – the ‘experience’ of previous lives.  On page 1 Caputo states that,

Depersonalization is an experience in which the individual feels a sense of unreality and detachment from
themselves. This is often accompanied by the symptom of derealisation in which the external world also appears unfamiliar. Patients describe their experiences of unreality as if they are living in a dream, and their sense of detachment from the world as though they are viewing life from behind a glass.

In such a state, a directed flight of fancy might easily be mistaken for remembrance of past events in an unfamiliar life. Also, the praise and approval provided by peers after this ‘success’ makes the subject more likely to take it seriously, leading to the creation of a false memory.

Why Does Staring Bring About Dissociation?

Humans are used to complex and constantly changing sensory input, so when this suddenly ceases strange things can happen. Starved of input,  your brain picks up on its own internal electrical noise and tries to interpret it – a process similar to dreaming.

Staring at another person for long periods or time is equivalent to sensory deprivation – which is well known to produce strange hallucinations. You may be experiencing sensory input – you can see your partner’s face – but this input does not change. This is such an unnatural experience that your mind tries to fit it in to previous experience by supplying movement and variety in the form of dream-like illusions.

The other symptoms (e.g.) depersonalisation are due to the loss of coordination between mental processes that comes about the mind can no longer make sense of its experience.


Caputo’s experiment is incredibly similar to the experience of Scientology ‘students’ undergoing ‘TR0 confronting’. It demonstrates that the strange and compelling hallucinations that both groups have are the result of natural processes which would happen to just about anybody, when they are placed in this odd situation.

Scientologists exploit these experiences by claiming that:

  • Scientology training is uniquely responsible for them
  • They provide evidence of the truth of Scientology doctrine

The interpretation is crucial. If you have these experiences in a Scientology environment, you will be led to interpret them in terms of Scientology and this may result in ‘conversion’ to Scientology.

3 thoughts on “The Compelling Effects of Simply Staring: Understanding the Scientology Mindset Part 13

  1. Pingback: The Compelling Effects of Simply Staring: Understanding the Scientology Mindset Part 13 | Scientology Books and Media

  2. I was in Scn many years ago. The idea of TR-0 was to ‘be there’ and do nothing else but be there. If a person had visions, discomfort, etc while doing so, it should have been considered incomplete, and also a rigid stare or never shifting at all was not the idea and was incorrect supervision, which I have no doubt abounded. The goal was to make it possible for someone to sit through a session, usually about 2 hours, with another person, be there attentive to them, and not to distract them. If you could do that, then you should have been passed. Why 2 hours? Scn sessions were open-ended, meaning you got a person into something that might be upsetting, and then got them confronting it with you and resolving it. You were never to end the session while they were in a bad state, but to get them through to a good state where it no longer bothered them and was resolved. This is unlike psych where it is “oops, time’s up” and you send them into the street at some risk to themselves. Some sessions were shorter and a great long sitdown unnecessary. But before you went into a session you needed to know that you could endure and get them through whatever was turned on in the session. Sessions turn on grief, anger, laughter, etc which are temporary signs of progress, because the same things happen to them in life, but this time they have someone who can help direct attention to the end that they can surmount and be free of them. So the practitioner is assured by doing a good TR-0 that they have the ability to take care of the person and not fade when they are needed.

    Also, the idea that a person would be encouraged by anyone else to view past lives or to consider any image in their minds as a past life is absolutely verboten. There may be buddies with excitement telling them something, but the rules are don’t discuss your case, and don’t evaluate another’s case, especially you are their ‘auditor’. If a person gets a picture in a session, he is never told anything about it. If he does not get any picture when looking inwards, then the subject is dropped. It is a violation to say something evaluative like “take another look” or similar things. Why? Because it will screw up the session and the person (not permanently, but it causes upsets). If something comes up and the meter is reacting and the person is interested in looking at it, all these things are self-determined, then fine, by all means have at it. That was the absolute rule and anyone violating it was subject to having to retrain on the rule and learn it, understanding we were trying to restore the person’s own ability to decide and view things, not to dictate or steer them around, or leave the profession of auditing. I’m sure some preclears would be so jazzed they would excitedly try to get others to do what they did, but we as practitioners didn’t ever do it, because we knew it set the person back and we wanted to help them move themselves forward. Many times I have heard other preclears or practitioners interrupt efforts like that to push past lives on people, pointing out it was improper. No one meant harm, but it was a technical point of the process to not evaluate for preclears, it just messes them up.

    I know Scn has had good and bad points, but the above is true about the way it was, and I hope still is, though I have not been near it in many many years. I gained a lot from it, it truly changed my life in a few hours’ time and I still have the same gains (in my case alcoholism) I had 50 years ago, I can take it or leave it, and I credit both Scn, Dianetics, and the great people who were onboard there in NYC in those days!

    • The whole point of the experiment described in this post is that, while examining something completely different, it reproduced the conditions of ‘TR0 Confront’. Then it showed that those conditions produced hallucinations. These were primarily ‘strange face’ illusions that are described elsewhere – for example in the book by William Simms Bainbridge and in accounts from many ex-Scientologists. This experience is the result of a form of sensory deprivation, and is wired into most people.

      You implicitly admit that this happens when you say ” If something comes up and the meter is reacting and the person is interested in looking at it, all these things are self-determined, then fine, by all means have at it.” If this happens in an atmosphere where the people supervising believe in the past lives they are supposed to have experienced during auditing, they are going to encourage others to believe the same. You mention “the meter”, so presumably a person who reports an hallucination is taken out of TRs and ‘examined’ with an e-meter. This sounds to me like an ideal opportunity to reinforce the Scientology interpretation with a pseudo-scientific prop. The e-meter measures skin resistance, and nothing else.

      If you have genuinely never experienced any of these illusions yourself that means you are one of the rare people who do not. Normal human variation means that some will have powerful and compelling experiences and others… nothing at all.

      As for TRs being useful as a treatment for alcoholism… a friend of mine suffered from this condition. It was a compulsion, backed up by a physical dependence that included terrible withdrawal symptoms. The idea that you can treat this by telling the person to stare at somebody else until they no longer feel the craving that will inevitably ‘turn itself on’ is not credible. The idea that this could be a permanent cure is not credible. My friend, if he had lasted the two hours, would have gone for a drink. If he had come back to the org and told them this, they would have replied that Scientology always works, and claimed that he did it wrong.

      What you present here is Scientology’s party line. That’s what they told you. However, what they told you is disingenuous. He have evidently observed this yourself because you say ” Many times I have heard other preclears or practitioners interrupt efforts like that to push past lives on people, pointing out it was improper”. The fact remains that these things were said, and cannot be unsaid.

      It’s inevitable that people will experience hallucinations; If they do, they will be congratulated for a ‘good session’. This is still ‘evaluation’, even if this is only expressed subtly, through the attitude of the supervisor. Also, the ability to have these experiences will be used to subtly promote the idea of ‘past lives’ when the ‘student’ go on to auditing. To say that there is no ‘evaluation’ is simply not true. When you go on to auditing evaluation is built into the system, because ‘past lives’ are built into the doctrine.

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the impression that you are someone who believes they benefited from the basic TRs,and perhaps early Scientology practices. I would suggest that there are better ways to derive the same benefits which don’t involve progression into a high-control group. I would encourage you to take more credit for the improvement in your life, because the idea that you can change your life permanently by staring at someone for a few hours is… well… not credible.

      Thank you for your perspective on the question.

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