Researching Children's Past Lives

A psychiatrist continuing Ian Stevenson's work discusses reincarnation--and current research into children's past lives.

Dr. Jim Tucker, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at the University of Virginia's Division of Personality Studies, researches claims by young children who spontaneously recall previous lives. He is currently completing a study involving psychological testing of American children who have made such reports.

Scientifically speaking, what's the most persuasive evidence for reincarnation?

The work that Ian Stevenson and other researchers have done involving these cases of young children with spontaneous memories is by far the most persuasive. In Dr. Stevenson's books, he has documented in meticulous detail the evidence that exists that could support a conclusion that the statements do represent actual memories from previous lives.

Which cases seem most remarkable to you, or hardest to refute?

The most convincing cases tend to involve young children, around the age of two to four, who begin making these statements, and they usually stop by the time they are six or seven. In the strongest cases, the children describe the lives of strangers who lived in another location, and those statements have then been verified to be accurate. Inmany cases, the children have birthmarks that match wounds on the bodiesof the deceased, and these represent objective evidence of a link withthe previous life.


The cases of memories evoked through past-life regression are much less persuasive because hypnosis is such an unreliable tool for any type of memories. It can produce spectacular results at times, but at other times, the mind simply fills in the blanks with fantasy material. Also, many subjects undergoing past-life regression describe ancient lives, and finding documentation to verify the memories is often not possible.

Would you briefly summarize Dr. Stevenson's methods?

Dr. Stevenson's methods involve talking with the child and its parents to learn as much as possible about statements that the child has made. He also talks to other firsthand witnesses about the child's statements. He then interviews the family of the previous personality, if he or she has been identified, to verify whether the child's statements were accurate or not. He also attempts to obtain police reports or autopsy reports when they are relevant. The goal is to find out how much of a case can be verified, and nothing is assumed until it has been verified.

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An interview with Dr. Jim Tucker
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