Psychedelics Science

The Setting Questionnaire for the Ayahuasca Experience

Written by Petar Petrov

Every ayahuasca trip is, to an extent, a leap of faith into a well of mysteries. But psychedelics have also piqued the interest of the scientific community, and scientists solve mysteries for a living, or at least try to narrow them down to correlations and patterns.

What is well-known by now is that the nature of a psychedelic trip, in general, is shaped largely by the person taking it and the environment the experience takes place in, or the set and setting, respectively, as they’re dubbed.

This is why a team of researchers sought to “develop and validate a new multidimensional questionnaire with strong psychometric properties, appropriate for different ayahuasca intake contexts.”

Moreover, the idea was for this questionnaire to serve as the foundation of a scale that encompasses the different aspects of the ayahuasca experience.

The researchers interviewed 19 ayahuasca drinkers and group leaders from different backgrounds and paired their answers with insights from expert literature for extra depth and context. The group of participants was sufficiently diverse in terms of age, gender, and level of experience. For example, three participants had less than five ayahuasca experiences, whereas four participants had over 500!

The responses were split into two halves on a random basis and analyzed via Exploratory Graph Analysis – EGA – and multidimensional item response theory – MIRT.

EGA is a technique used for finding “dimensions” that is said to perform better than methods like principal component analysis (PCA). EGA finds “communities of items” in the data, or put another way, areas of similarity/dissimilarity.

EGA defined 33 “short items” (factors), spanning six general dimensions – Leadership, as in the people conducting the ceremony; Infrastructure, meaning the facility; Instruction, as in the information and guidance; Social, referring to the other participants; Comfort, defined by the body position; and Decoration, namely the ornamentation. Fifteen additional questions about the scene (music, activities, and natural elements) were added.

Examples of the responses included “I had doubts about the organizers’ capacity to deal with possible complications”, “looking at other people bothered me”, and “the ritual leadership gave me a sense of security.”

Two items had to be excluded: “the place had characteristics in common with other environments that I frequent in everyday life” and “the other participants are similar to my friends” from Decoration and Social, respectively, “because they strongly correlated with each other, creating an undesirable new dimension ‘Familiarity,’” which wasn’t discussed in the initially reviewed literature and the adopted theory.

MIRT was used for cross-validating the originally proposed factors and the ones found in the EGA.

The researchers note that the study does have its limitations, like the sentences being formulated in a way that predisposes extreme, black-or-white answers.

Out of all the dimensions, Leadership appeared to be the most central, followed by Instruction, which arguably complements the former. Conversely, Comfort – in terms of body position – assumed a marginal position, as its correlation with other dimensions was less significant.

This correlation outlines a relatively clear takeaway, given the abstract, spiritual nature of the subject matter – it’s the psychological comfort, which comes from feeling safe and in good hands, that matters most to a quality ayahuasca trip rather than the strictly physical comfort.



[1] Pontual AAD, Tófoli LF, Collares CF, Ramaekers JG, Corradi-Webster CM. The setting questionnaire for the ayahuasca experience: Questionnaire development and internal structure. Front Psychol. 2021;12:679016. [journal impact factor = 2.99; times cited = 1]

About the author

Petar Petrov

Petar is a freelance writer and copywriter, covering culture, art, society, and anything in-between that makes for a nice story. And as it so happens, cannabis is a great element to add to each of those conversations.

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