Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 651–664 | Cite as

Cultural Explanations of Sleep Paralysis in Italy: The Pandafeche Attack and Associated Supernatural Beliefs

Original Paper


The current study examines cultural explanations regarding sleep paralysis (SP) in Italy. The study explores (1) whether the phenomenology of SP generates culturally specific interpretations and causal explanations and (2) what are the beliefs and local traditions associated with such cultural explanations. The participants were Italian nationals from the general population (n = 68) recruited in the region of Abruzzo, Italy. All participants had experienced at least one lifetime episode of SP. The sleep paralysis experiences and phenomenology questionnaire were orally administered to participants. We found a multilayered cultural interpretation of SP, namely the Pandafeche attack, associated with various supernatural beliefs. Thirty-eight percent of participants believed that this supernatural being, the Pandafeche—often referred to as an evil witch, sometimes as a ghost-like spirit or a terrifying humanoid cat—might have caused their SP. Twenty-four percent of all participants sensed the Pandafeche was present during their SP. Strategies to prevent Pandafeche attack included sleeping in supine position, placing a broom by the bedroom door, or putting a pile of sand by the bed. Case studies are presented to illustrate the study findings. The Pandafeche attack thus constitutes a culturally specific, supernatural interpretation of the phenomenology of SP in the Abruzzo region of Italy.


Sleep paralysis Cultural interpretation Causal explanation Supernatural beliefs 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Baland Jalal
    • 1
  • Andrea Romanelli
    • 2
  • Devon E. Hinton
    • 3
  1. 1.Center for Brain and CognitionUniversity of California at San DiegoSan DiegoUSA
  2. 2.Department of General PsychologyUniversity of PaduaPaduaItaly
  3. 3.Massechustest General Hospital and Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA

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