The idea that your whole life replays in some sort of Big Brother best bits before you croak sounds little more than a cheesy trick Hollywood films use to squeeze some tears out of you.
So you may be surprised to hear that new research from the Hadassah University in Jerusalem has found we do in fact replay key moments in our lives when close to death. The study, published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, surveyed and interviewed 264 people who gave detailed responses about near-death experiences they had suffered.
The researchers found they did recall intensely emotional moments in their lives but often in random sequences rather than a chronological order. Even more interesting is the fact that some of the memories were not recalled from their point of view, instead they saw incidents from the eyes of other people involved.
One participant said: "It was like being there for centuries. I was not in time/space so this question also feels impossible to answer. A moment, and a thousand years… both and neither. It all happened at once, or some experiences within my near-death experience were going on at the same time as others, though my human mind separates them into different events."
Another said: "I was seeing, feeling these things about him [my father], and he was sharing with me the things of his early childhood and how things were difficult for him."
The memories recalled tended to be extremely emotional. One participant said: "I could individually go into each person and I could feel the pain that they had in their life... I was allowed to see that part of them and feel for myself what they felt."
Researchers said the new study highlights "a most intriguing mental phenomenon that fascinated humans from time immemorial" - which they termed "life review experience" (LRE). This suggests that a representation of life-events as a continuum exists in the cognitive system, and may be further expressed in extreme conditions of psychological and physiological stress."
So it isn't a reel of your highlights like you might think, instead our brain is reacting to stress and the threat of danger by making, "super-concentrated version of mental processes that happen every day."