The Origin of Alien Faces: Examining Malmstrom's Template: Exploring Errors and Options in Abductees' Experiences of Alien Faces

By Witts, Ben; Buchanan, Jeff | Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

The Origin of Alien Faces: Examining Malmstrom's Template: Exploring Errors and Options in Abductees' Experiences of Alien Faces


Witts, Ben, Buchanan, Jeff, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)


In "Close Encounters of the Facial Kind" (Vol. 11 No. 4), Frederick Malmstrom argues that an explanation behind the consistency of alien facial features (e.g. large eyes, slender nose) may be that abductees are drawing upon the influence of an inborn female prototypical face template. While Malmstrom presents some very well formed arguments to support this theory, we feel that there may be some additional explanations that need to be addressed. We will look at aspects of hypnogognic (hallucination inducing state between wakefulness and sleeping) and hypnopompic (hallucination inducing state between sleeping and waking) hallucinations, social expectations regarding alien facial patterns, the idea of a prototypical face template, and how these elements may be used to explain the commonality of alien faces reported by abductees.

Hallucinations and Regressions

Malmstrom notes that the majority of abductees recall their abduction through hypnogognic and hypnopompic hallucinations, or while under the influence of regression therapy. Concerning the former, one would need to show consistency in the events and scenes experienced to purport that a common mechanism is at work here. That is, in order to claim that a facial template is being accessed during these states, one would have to show that many hallucinations produce facial images and that there is consistency to these images. Regarding regression techniques, one would need to show the validity of regression before one could even begin to use them to account for the commonality in alien facial experiences.

A brief review of the literature shows that a common theme does not run through the experiences of those who have had hypnogognic and hypnopompic hallucinations) If all who claimed an abduction experience saw the same features (e.g. large almond eyes, enlarged cranium, thin nose) we would agree with Malmstrom that these experiences are tapping into a template, which he claims focuses mainly on the eyes and the nose. I (Ben) personally have experienced some terrifying hypnopompic hallucinations. For many years I had a reoccurring hallucination in which a tall man in a dark trench coat and black hat stood above me in my room. I never saw his eyes, or his nose for that matter, which clearly does not match Malmstrom's expectations. While anecdotes are not evidence, it is perhaps at least suggestive that the prototypical facial template may not be at work in all cases, or, if it is, it focuses on features other than the large eyes and thin nose supposedly seen by newborns.

Another important thing to note about hallucinations is that they are not consistent throughout history. In other eras, the intruder may have been demons such as the incubi or succubi. Even in the present, cultural differences can be quite dramatic, such as the widespread case of the "Old Hag" seen in Newfoundland. (2) And as for the aliens themselves, they can differ quite dramatically from the typical "gray" that is reported amongst abductees. Some other types include reptilian and metallic abductors.

When dealing with regression, one needs to go no further than to demonstrate the unreliability of memories created within a regression context in order to dismiss it as a source of data from which to draw. Since it is not too difficult to find literature supporting this idea (3), we must conclude that, at best (for the believers), the majority of abductions recalled under hypnotic regressions are merely caused by the influence of a credulous hypnotherapist. If there is no validity to regression techniques, then using them for research purposes seems pointless at best and misleadingly dangerous at worst.

Prototype Face Template

What Malmstrom failed to note in his article was that there could be an alternative explanation for an infant's attention to the human face. In the same research article by Bushnell (4) that Malmstrom cites, the author notes other research that contradicts Malmstrom's argument. …

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