Although different cases vary in detail (sometimes significantly), some argue that there is a broad, fairly consistent sequence and description of events which make up the typical "close encounter of the third kind". ("Abduction" in an extension of Dr. J. Allen Hynek's classifying terminology) Though the features outlined below are often reported, there is some disagreement as to exactly how often they actually occur. There has been some debate over the subject, and some researchers (especially Budd Hopkins and David Michael Jacobs) have been accused of excluding, minimising or suppressing testimony or data which do not fit a certain paradigm for the phenomenon.
As folklorist Dr. Thomas E. Bullard has noted (his essay is reprinted in Clark 1998), most abduction accounts feature the following events. They generally follow the sequence noted below, though not all abductions feature all the events:
Capture (Abductees taken from room/area and find themselves in the "ship")
Examination (a seeming medical or physiological exam)
Conference ("Aliens" speak with abductees)
Tour (Not always described but some abductees claim to be shown the ship)
Loss of Time (Many abductees suffer from periods of time removed from their memory, often coming back to them later)
Return (Returned, sometimes with environmental changes)
Theophany (a profound mystical experience, ergo a feeling of oneness with God or the universe)
Aftermath (Sickness, new phobias, ridicule, etc.)
Such alleged abductions are often closely connected to UFO reports, and are sometimes supposedly conducted by so-called Greys: Short, grey-skinned humanoids with large, pear-shaped heads and enormous dark eyes.
In his books on the subject, Harvard Medical School professor Dr. John Edward Mack explained that common features of alien abduction experiences in North America include the feeling of paralysis; the perception of having been transported immaterially, frequently through a beam of light; the sense of having been surgically probed or implanted with devices; the freezing or slowing of time; and sexual or reproductive contact or manipulation by the aliens.
There are however cultural differences in perception of these reported incidents. The frightening "terror abduction" experience is reported mainly in the USA, while in the rest of the world, the ET encounters are said to be largely benevolent -- this apparent incongruity perhaps raising a question as to the phenomenon's origins.
As noted above, the so-called Greys are most popularly associated with abduction reports. Again, however, this seems to be a North American paradigm best-known since the 1980s. On the contrary, some researchers (such as Kevin D. Randle in his 1997 book, Faces Of The Visitors: An Illustrated Reference To Alien Contact) have noted a vast variety of alleged creatures have been reported in abduction accounts worldwide, with some of the alleged creatures not even described as humanoid.
Although in North America, "aliens" of extraterrestrial origin are the most commonly blamed in these incidents, in Europe and other parts of the world, the beings involved are as often perceived to be demonic or spiritual in origin. Common elements in the descriptions of abductions and visitations vary by region and local culture, with only a very few elements being the same worldwide, such as an otherworldly sensation, reports of mind control, repressed memories being rediscovered, and sexual experiences. These elements, and many aspects of what witnesses describe, are very common in old stories of encounters with faeries, demons, and other magical creatures.
In many abduction reports, the individual(s) concerned are often traveling by automobile at the time of the incident, usually at night or in the early morning hours, and usually in a rural or sparsely populated area. A UFO will be seen ahead, (sometimes on the road) and the driver will either deliberately stop to investigate, or the car will stop due to apparent mechanical failure. Other forms of mechanical failure and interference are also common, such as a car radio producing static or behaving abnormally. Such descriptions match that of an EM pulse, which can be both naturally and artificially induced. In the occasions when they have been present, animals such as dogs usually also display a heightened fear response.
Upon getting out of the vehicle, the driver and passenger(s) typically will experience a blank period and amnesia, after which they will find themselves again standing in front of their car. While they very often will not consciously remember the experience, either subsequent nightmares or hypnosis will reveal an often harrowing and invasive medical examination, sometimes involving the removal or insertion of reproductive material. In some older cases, there were also occasional reports of abductees exhibiting symptoms consistent with nuclear radiation sickness.
Dr. Don C. Donderi writes that "In many of these [abduction] accounts, there is independent confirmation of missing time--emotionally stable people arriving hours late after long or short automobile journeys. There is independent confirmation of abduction events reported under hypnosis, sometimes by non hypnotized observers and sometimes by other hypnotized witnesses".