UFO Conjectures

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Coming to believe in ETs: The Betty Hill Syndrome

When a person submits a story (or report) that they encountered a UFO and suggest, sometimes even stating overtly, that the encounter was with extraterrestrials, why do some ufologists or UFO buffs readily accept the ET idea or suggestion?

The psychological mechanisms for coming to believe what is inherently an unbelievable account by, sometimes, a psychologically unstable individual are many.

The explanations for tying into a fantasy, hallucination, or outright lie cane be found in the psychiatric literature (especially psychoanalytic theory) and The Theory of Mind concepts.

Some UFO proponents empathize with someone like Betty who presented a honest persona and motherly stereotype.

That is, some believers in the Hill scenario came to accept the Betty Hill abduction account because they liked Ms. Hill, and harkened back to their childhood and identified with Betty as a mother-type, their mother-type.

Some UFO buffs just liked the story because it resonated with their childhood fantasies about space beings and other worlds: the Sci-Fi scenario.

(This Sci-Fi belief is the psychology that underpins the ongoing and obsessive Roswell saga.)

Then there is the “fright factor” – the appeal (as warped as it may be) of frightening stories, as presented in many fairy tales (and real life).

Some UFO enthusiasts like to be frightened, hypothetically, and identify with the anxiety and fear offered by tales such as the Pascagoula and Travis Walton abductions, along with the Hill experience.

When a UFO report or story surfaces, persons inclined to gullibility or worse will jump on the story if it impacts them at some level, unconsciously and/or consciously.

Objectivity is hard to come by, in any human arena, but UFOs and ufology are arenas that attract those at the edge of psychosis or something a bit less but still mentally challenging: Asperger’s for example. (There are several UFO notables that have or had Asperger’s, and many more on the cusp of mental derangement.)

It not only is incumbent for UFO “researchers” to look at core UFO reports but also to check out those who are furthering such reports.

(The same applies to skeptics: their psychological make-up needs as much, or more, scrutiny as those reporting a UFO experience or sighting.)



  • Pretty much agree with everything you've said; UFO proponents pretty much accept at face value what is reported to them; with very few if any actually attempting to falsify it.

    However, sceptics like me also have a default position of disbelief; but, I contend, this is grounded in a much more secure foundation, as evidence is always 'curiously' absent for the fantastical claims of UFO 'experiencers' (and I use that phrase advisedly). Indeed, the 'burden of proof inversion' prevalent throughout the whole phenomenon, usually means that it's the sceptics who actually do any falsifying.

    Feel free to pick at any of my cognitive biases that may be shining bright enough to have me blind to them.

    By Blogger scherben, at Wednesday, March 30, 2016  

  • Scherben:

    Again, I have to note that readers (commenters) here are atypical of the usual UFO horde.

    You, and others, express intelligent (and often intellectual) observations.

    Biases showing up here are legitimate biases, including my own which I try to acknowledge.

    (And I have to admit that I'm more open to some beliefs I excoriate than I'm prone to make public here.)


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Wednesday, March 30, 2016  

  • I, too, am perfectly happy with the idea of ET (or Inter-Dimensional) visitation to this planet: but only if good, solid evidence is offered up, and quite simply, so far, we're still waiting.

    To illustrate further, I'm genuinely excited by both the WOW signal, and the dimming of Tabby's Star; even though I believe that they'll have a natural, rather than an artificial explanation. At least at the moment, the artificial hypotheses for both are a genuine possibility (I just want all natural possibilities ruled out first).

    By Blogger scherben, at Wednesday, March 30, 2016  

  • The concept(s) of advanced civilizations in the Universe is not far-fetched, for me, scherben.

    That such an advanced civilization would be pummeling the Earth with UFOs would indicate that maybe such a civilization isn't as advanced as one might hope.

    Broadcasting a "WOW" signal is troublesome also: how could an (alien) culture come up with the very idea of radio, which has a technological evolution unique to our species (and history)? The odds for a similar technological thrust are astronomical, no pun.

    The "dimming" of a star system would hint at a civilization so advanced that reconnoitering around this backwater planet would be akin to human entomologists gathering a bevy of fellow entomologists for an ongoing foray to an ant colony in a sparse area of Africa...."ongoing" the operative word.

    Yet, the possibility is there.....another culture may just be insane with curiosity or lives so long and full of tedium that scouring the Universe (or this galaxy) is an existent necessity.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Wednesday, March 30, 2016  

  • I'm with you in that even if Tabby's Star and/or the WOW signal were found to be the products of an alien civilisation, it wouldn't authenticate a single UFO report, even though their would be those in the UFO fraternity (I suspect) who'd smugly say 'told you so.' (Even aliens landing live on telly tomorrow wouldn't do that unless they gave us very good evidence that they'd been responsible for the past seventy years or more's dalliances.)

    Back to the WOW signal, I'm not so sure an alien civilisation couldn't come up the concept of radio. Radio waves are just electromagnetic radiation, and occur quite naturally throughout the cosmos. What might count against the WOW signal being artificial is that it being orders of magnitude stronger than anything we can produce, it would have originated with a significantly more advanced civilisation. One that you'd suspect would have moved onto to better technologies at that stage(?)

    By Blogger scherben, at Wednesday, March 30, 2016  

  • Regarding Betty Hill, I do recall reading somewhere that Hollywood plans to make a movie about this case.

    Personally, I believe Betty had some type of mental episode and as such, was able to convince her loving husband that he too experienced the same thing.

    Although I can't prove it, I've long hypothesized that perhaps (just perhaps), the fact they were an interracial couple (nothing wrong with that) in a period of our history when such was generally (unfairly) frowned upon, was a factor leading to stress or mental episodes which manifested in strained delusions.

    By Blogger Brian Bell, at Wednesday, March 30, 2016  

  • Brian:

    I've had the same thought as you about the inter-racial aspect and have dealt with it in a blog posr, which one may find via a Google search.

    The era allows for your idea about stress and a folie à deux.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Wednesday, March 30, 2016  

  • Admittedly I'm not a Hill aficionado, but from what I take (loosely) is that the principle of the story was Barney and it appears that Betty co-opts the story after her husband's death. The folie a deux ends with Barney Hill's death, but for Betty the wanting to believe morphs into the will to believe culminating into a well defined confabulation.

    By Blogger Tim Hebert, at Thursday, March 31, 2016  

  • Concerning contact by ETs, if such exist, I often wonder what sort of evidence is necessary to finally prove to science that we have been contacted by ETs, either now or in the past.

    Actual hardware would be the best of course, i.e. tangible hardware (like that Roswell 'saucer'!) that is completely new to planet earth and which defied all attempts to identify it as emanating from earth. But this could take many years to establish to the satisfaction of the scientific fraternity.

    Other than hardware, all we have is electromagnetic waves, i.e. radio signals. Again these would have to extend over a long time period and go through all sorts of verification before science accepted them as genuinely coming from ETs.

    So we have a real uphill struggle to finally prove we are being visited (or have even communicated with) extraterrestrials. One thing I am certain of: it won't happen during my lifetime.

    By Blogger cda, at Thursday, March 31, 2016  

  • CDA:

    No extraterrestrial civilization, if technologically able to traverse the vast array(s) of the Universe are going to visit this backwater planet, and certainly not in the droves that UFO reports indicate.

    Your debate at Kevin's blog about that radio mentioned by Scully in his book is important however. It would, if true -- and I think it is -- suggest that something "alien" did show up, at least once, here.

    And it's that kind of subliminal detail that keeps Kevin, Rudiak, Friedman, and other ETers, hooked on extraterrestrial visitation.

    They have a gut feeling that the Roswell "crash" was ET oriented, and one can't blame them....there are just enough odd details to support their intuition.

    Although Roswell now bores the hell out of me, I think there is meat on that bone. (That's why I find it hard to condemn Kevin and DR for their obsession.)


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Thursday, March 31, 2016  

  • Regarding the "radio" -

    Of course this may be a simple reference to "radiosonde" as in Mogul type debris, but one of the better (more scientific) explanations (theories) has been that the devise which crashed was the equivalent of an ET "solar sail" powered mechanical research probe.

    See how the material used here (foil, sticks, and radio device could be similar to what was reportedly found.


    The theory holds that a not so distant race of aliens sent out solar sailed probes in multiple directions in the hopes of finding worlds that might hold life, and one just happened to crash here after hundreds of thousands of years traveling between there and here.

    There are problems though, such as how did it self navigate without being sucked up by Jupiter's gravity, and how it managed to survive reentry not being totally burned to a crisp.

    By Blogger Brian Bell, at Thursday, March 31, 2016  

  • @Brian That theory is just more unfalsifiable bunk that fails Occam's Razor.

    Other than the issues you've pointed out, there's the simple issue of what was found at Roswell looking remarkably like a terrestrial balloon... :)

    By Blogger scherben, at Thursday, March 31, 2016  

  • (Pardon me if I repeat myself. I don't wish to Gehrmanise, but...)

    > Betty who presented an honest persona and motherly stereotype

    You're right, but that response took time to develop. UFO buffs were initially cautious about the Hill case, having been burned by the contactees. What made a difference with the Hills, I suspect, is that:

    1) as you suggest, they were normal people with normal occupations (social worker, postal worker), but also,
    2) they did not propound a mystical alien message of New age peace and love; rather, their "experience" seemed to be a relatively mundane scientific study, and
    3) they engaged a psychiatrist who gave a scientific frame of reference to the claim.

    Ironically, as Betty aged and became "motherly" and beloved, her retellings and new claims became less and less credible.

    > Then there is the “fright factor”

    It is my observation that UFO buffs attach the most credence to witnesses who express the most fear. Incident at Exeter is loaded with references to fearful reports. James Harder suggested to Pat Roach -- while under hypnosis! -- that she describe her account in terms of fear. Most egregiously, Kathleen Marden countered Betty's happy kidnap retellings (well-documented by interviewers and Betty herself) by writing that her aunt secretly expressed great fear about the experience (tellingly, a fearful version Marden did not get on the record).

    > check out those who are furthering such reports

    UFO buffs frequently shout "character assassination" if anyone looks at the witness rather than the report. This is a shameful dodge. Kevin Randle, in his book Scientific Ufology, writes: "There is nothing to examine in an eyewitness report except the background of the witness, to see if he or she has a habit of telling tall tales, has trouble distinguishing between real objects and the imagined, and if he or she is a solid citizen not given to flights of fantasy" (p. 17 of paperback ed).

    By Blogger Terry the Censor, at Thursday, March 31, 2016  

  • > the principle of the story was Barney and it appears that Betty co-opts the story after her husband's death.

    Tim makes a good observation. In the Bluebook files, the case is described as "The Barney Hill sighting" (e.g. USAF letter of Sept 27, 1963). In the early days, all Betty reported seeing was a light in the sky, perhaps discerning windows and red lights. It was Barney who wandered off with binoculars when the object appeared to land in a field, and only Barney claimed to view a distinct ship with wings extending, and beings working levers inside (the beings are not in the Bluebook files, but in the 1961 summary by Walter Webb).

    Betty's co-opting of the event occurs in mere weeks. Though only Barney had conscious recall of seeing aliens, Betty soon had dreams about them. Betty sent a letter to Keyhoe that includes her suggestion of using hypnosis to help Barney remember more details about the aliens. In 1963, Barney was medically referred to Benjamin Simon for treatment of emotional disturbances using hypnoanalysis, but Betty shows up at the first session, insisting she be hypnotised too (UFO books usually write that both Hills were medically referred to Simon, but this is not true at all).

    Before long, the media and UFO buffs stopped writing about the "Barney Hill sighting," and instead wrote of the "Barney and Betty Hill case," and eventually the "Betty and Barney Hill case." (Someone could write an MA thesis tracking the labelling of the case over time, and how the tale changed as the name of the case changed.)

    By Blogger Terry the Censor, at Thursday, March 31, 2016  

  • @scherben

    Indeed a long shot so long its odds of happening are so remote it's impossible to even calculate. But at least it's more in line with scientific possibility than other hypotheses offered in regards to ET contact.

    Although Mogul (or something like it) is the probable explanation, ET proponents will continue to site the lack of support for Flight #4's existence and that no other balloon devices were flying at that time.

    The only plausible explanation is Flight #4 did fly and there were many, many errors in how it was recorded (incorrectly) giving the impression it never did fly at all.

    By Blogger Brian Bell, at Thursday, March 31, 2016  

  • @Brian

    I do actually agree with you. If I've inadvertently caused offence, I apologise. I used the term "bunk" fully knowing that the hypothesis hadn't originated with you, and I should have made that clear.

    I missing data on the Mogul flight is a wrinkle, but you're surely correct that some sort of 'admin' error is to blame. Though who knows? Maybe it was an alien probe... :)

    By Blogger scherben, at Thursday, March 31, 2016  

  • Hey Brian! Spitball much? ;-)

    That's what we used to call the practice of just throwing out any idea--no matter how evidenceless, conspiratorial and nonfalsifiable, so unscientific.

    The spitballer, quite honestly, always denies originating the idea. I'd guess that the practice and term originated in business meetings among salesmen. Ever been in sales, Brian?

    You're basically skeptical. I like that and your "anything goes" and "anything could be true" approach to this fundamentally silly subject because it all amounts to nothing anyway. It's just a virtual Internet, but somewhat intellectual, ball that we've kicked around over and over, over decades.

    So maybe you can see why some serious-minded science types might be a tad confused by your approach and misinterpret what is merely good-natured Internet talk with mostly middle-aged guys about black aerospace, conspiracy theories, popular science stories, popular culture history, and just about anything one might hear on late-night radio. Sort of the 21-century equivalent of 1940s fanzine, and we're lucky enough to have Rich, Kevin, Robert, Paul and others host places for us to meet and talk.


    By Blogger zoamchomsky, at Friday, April 01, 2016  

  • Tim, Terry, and all;

    Interesting. Good Report, Terry! Given that's all true, it doesn't turn the traditional narrative and conventional wisdom about this case on its head but it does make a difference.

    It was Betty who first observed a light in the sky near the Moon and thought it might be a "flying saucer" because her sister had supposedly seen one the year before; Betty who called the local Air Force base, made a report and arranged for a follow-up interview at their home. It was Betty who wrote to Keyhoe as you say; Betty who had vivid nightmares about their purported "abduction" experience and kept a notebook in which she recorded her dreams.

    Unfortunately, Betty's "dreams" appear to have been lucid memories--and very conscious recollections though somewhat transformed--of entire scenes of the movie "Invaders from Mars," very much in the way a child has nightmares after watching too much frightening television. I'd bet that Betty had even seen IFM more than once--her finished confabulation resembling it so much and in detail--and quite possibly in the weeks or months prior to their trip, when shown on late-night television as was the case in those days.

    And even though Betty and Barney claimed they didn't watch shows like the Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits, when Barney said, "They're going to capture us!" Betty's almost comical retort was, "Like on the Twilight Zone?"

    We all know Martin Kottmeyer's wonderful insight into Barney's insistence on the leader's eyes being "Eyes that Speak." "His eyes are in my eyes!" And the Bifrost alien from the Bellero Shield episode of the Outer Limits saying, all throughout the Galaxy, all creatures who have eyes, "have eyes that speak." Within two weeks of that episode airing, Barney--to Betty's vehement opposition--insisted that the "NAZI" leader, in black leather and a motorcyclist's cap, had eyes that wrapped up and around his head, very much like those he had almost certainly seen on the Outer Limits.

    But they didn't watch that sort of television, they claimed. I can only call this, Baloney! As is every other bit of their late-Contactee, new-age nutter story.

    Given this new information amd its interpretation, I'd say that Barney's contribution was still no more than 50 percent. And I think we can make reasonable assumptions about why it was Barney who was "medically referred...for treatment of emotional disturbances." [He was married to Betty! ;-D]

    "The Hills were simply deeply troubled people who created their transformative late-Contactee fantasy and so their self-anointed new-age flying-saucer spiritualist personae in order to paper over their many problems...."


    By Blogger zoamchomsky, at Friday, April 01, 2016  

  • @scherben

    No worries. I didn't take it that way. I offered it as just one more (crazy) idea thrown at the problem that is a tad more realistic than all the other nonsense. Hey at least it contains "foil" and "sticks"! But I can't claim it as my idea (see below).


    It wasn't my idea, I actually read it some time ago on ATS (another place to get amused by UFO buff thinking). Like you though, I have worked in Higher Ed. My point being that in some circles there's an established mindset among academics and the scientific community that nothing outside of what is currently known is even possible. Of course that's not true as evidenced by our advances in medicine, electronic technology and the ongoing discoveries in advanced physics. I believe the 1-3% of claimed "unexplainable" UFO sightings have real explanations, some which are influenced by yet unknown psychological / medical conditions, conditioned sociological thinking, unknown natural earth phenomenon, and (yes) advanced human engineered military aircraft hidden in the black world of national defense. Aliens? Not likely, not now, or in our ancient past. But yes I could "spit-ball" all day on this subject....!

    By Blogger Brian Bell, at Friday, April 01, 2016  

  • I too like the work of Kottmeyer, which was expanded by Jason Colavito (who was able to review more episodes of those old shows, thanks to DVD releases, and found more examples of wraparound eyes on aliens).

    But we musn't get caught up in saying we know the Hills watched these specific episodes and movies. That is something we just cannot know unless new documents turn up, and skeptics such as Brian Dunning look foolish in their certainty about this point. All we can say is that Betty was not telling the truth when she claimed Barney could not have seen these programmes owing to his work schedule (just as she was not telling the truth about Barney's knowledge of her dreams).

    By my reading, Kottmeyer wasn't arguing that point anyway; he was not saying we could find the specific source of the specific imagery from a specific case.* Rather, he was disproving Thomas Bullard's absurd assertion that the Hills were "entirely unpredisposed" by the culture to have such images in their minds. On that point, Kottmeyer was absolutely correct, as Bullard later conceded in The Myth and Mystery of UFOs. (Most buffs seem ignorant of this concession and still harang Kottmeyer about his speculations.)

    So there is no doubt the culture was full of imagery that could have influenced the Hills' conscious and hypnotic testimony. A better film than Invaders From mars is Killers From Space (1954), also well-worked over by Kottmeyer, which has disembodied eyes appearing to a driver on a lonely highway, plus much other relevant imagery. (I highly recommend the version of the movie riffed by The Film Crew, former members of Mystery Theater 3000. Hilarious.)

    As possible influences on the Hills, I would note the covers to these pulp novels written by J. Hunter Holly:

    The Flying Eyes (1962), which has a scene of giant disembodied eyes hypnotising drivers, who them abandon their cars on the highway!

    The Grey Aliens (1963), which I have not read yet (because Flying Eyes was sooooo crappy).

    Astonishing coincidences, these two novels showing up just before the hypnosis sessions, eh?

    *NOTE: I do think Kottmeyer did perform this amazing feat by comparing frames of Mars Needs Women (1967) with the aliens described (drawn?) by Herbert Schirmer.

    By Blogger Terry the Censor, at Friday, April 01, 2016  

  • To Terry's point, this to me is a good example of Hollywood imagery setting up sociological conditioning that can convince people that what they've seen is authentic, when in fact it comes from images imbedded in the subconscious that the witness is unaware are even there.

    By Blogger Brian Bell, at Saturday, April 02, 2016  

  • I've started to collect psychology journal articles regarding "alien abductions", "delusions" etc. from a data base at work. Came across some very interesting takes. I'll post something on my blog and give you a few links.

    It's been my suspicion that Barney Hill may have suffered an emotional trauma at an earlier age. Some time ago, I stumbled across a journal article that gave credence to this line of thought, yet I failed to bookmark or download it. As of yet I've not been able to find it.

    I'll also see if there is any correlation studies regarding Capgras delusions.

    By Blogger Tim Hebert, at Saturday, April 02, 2016  

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    By Blogger hessdalen lights, at Saturday, April 02, 2016  

  • Jung's archetypes have the same old problem of being unfalsifiable, a mantra that I've repeated so often, I'm boring myself. However, as it dips its toe into the metaphysical realm, I think I'll have a look at AJ Ayers Language, Truth and Logic for some more systematic objections (To the metaphysics: Ayer doesn't address Jung as far as I know).


    I thought Capgras Syndrome was a delusion regarding imposters? I'm not sure how that fits into the UFO syndrome?

    By Blogger scherben, at Saturday, April 02, 2016  

  • > Barney Hill may have suffered an emotional trauma at an earlier age

    From Captured! by Friedman and Marden: "An accident with a grenade caused Barney to lose his teeth, necessitating dentures, and he was discharged in fair condition from the Aberdeen Proving Ground on May 8, 1944."

    No idea if there was an accident report.

    There also seems to be no information on why his first marriage ended.

    Ufologists have been incurious about the past of both Hills.

    By Blogger Terry the Censor, at Saturday, April 02, 2016  

  • > I've started to collect psychology journal articles regarding "alien abductions"... I'll post something on my blog and give you a few links.

    Looking forward to it, Tim. I have a very small pile of articles and am keen to learn of more.

    By Blogger Terry the Censor, at Saturday, April 02, 2016  

  • @sherben

    By understanding the different variations of Capgras, I think it fits very well into the abduction meme.

    Due to it being fairly uncommon among the delusion subsets, I believe that it has been overlooked by psychologist/psychiatrist when looking at the various abduction stories.


    I'll post as soon as I can.

    By Blogger Tim Hebert, at Saturday, April 02, 2016  

  • John G. Fuller's first book was The Gentleman Conspirators: The Story of Price-Fixers in the Electrical Industry, published in 1962.

    In it, he uses the phrase 'gray chameleon'. Don't know where he got it from; but Leonard Stringfield was told by an informant that there were aliens with lizard or chameleon-like skin.


    By Blogger Daniel Transit, at Saturday, April 02, 2016  

  • Daniel, have you read the book yourself and discovered this phrase?

    If so, could you type up a few sentences for context?

    If not, can you give us the source?

    By Blogger Terry the Censor, at Saturday, April 02, 2016  

  • '..You were full of energy and out to learn all you could. You were too green to catch the clichés of the industry memos and shop talk. You were careful not to stick your neck out too far, and to keep a fair amount of camouflage around you so that you wouldn't be spotted as an "odd one." Without being aware of it, you were well on your way to becoming a gray chameleon...' (pg.115)

    There's also a reference to a power blackout (comma in original):

    '..The June, 1961 power blackout in New York City was a dramatic example of this. Two circuit breakers went out of kilter. The city was paralyzed for hours. Nothing could emphasize so clearly the importance to the public of the equipment which was being cartelized by the conspirators...' (pg.173)

    By Blogger Daniel Transit, at Monday, April 04, 2016  

  • Thank you, Daniel.

    A gray chameleon is a real thing.


    But judging from the context, I think Fuller is using it metaphorically as a bland thing that is indistinguishable from the background stimuli.

    No warrant there to think a metaphor is a coy allusion to literal aliens. (Just yesterday I warned The Rudiak about doing the same thing.)

    By Blogger Terry the Censor, at Monday, April 04, 2016  

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