Though hearing voices is often stigmatized as the product of mental health issues, it’s fairly common to hear voices. As many as 15% of people hear voices at some point, though only 1% have schizophrenia. Previous research suggests that these auditory hallucinations may be shaped by cultural factors. And now, a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry Today has found that the voices people hear may be more multidimensional than scientists previously believed.
The Complexity of Auditory Hallucinations
Researchers provided 153 respondents with online surveys about their experiences hearing voices. Twenty-six had no history of mental health issues, and 127 had a mental health diagnosis. The surveys allowed participants to respond in their own words, giving researchers access to a broad array of subjective characterizations.
Eighty-one percent of participants reported that they heard multiple voices, with 70% attributing playful characteristics to these voices. Less than half reported that the voices were only auditory. Instead, the majority reported that the voices they heard presented as a combination of thoughts and voices. Sixty-six percent of participants experienced physical sensations while hearing voices. Those who experienced such sensations were more likely to characterize the voices they heard as abusive. Many participants reported negative associations with the voices they heard, but 31% also reported positive emotions.
Changing Perceptions of Hallucinations
This research calls into question much common wisdom about auditory hallucinations. For example, researchers often argue that hearing voices is a purely perceptual phenomenon. But this study shows that many people with hallucinations experience the voices they hear as distinct personalities. A person’s experiences can also shape hallucinations. People with a history of trauma were more likely to report abusive voices.
Researchers point to the need for different types of therapies to support voice hearers. Some participants found that peer support was especially helpful when they experienced auditory hallucinations. Hearing Voices, a support group for those who experience hallucinations, is one of many options for getting support from others with similar experiences. Other approaches that may be used for people who want help with the voices they hear include cognitive behavioral therapy, voice dialogue techniques, group therapy, self-help, and medications, among others.
- Cooke, A. (2014). Understanding psychosis and schizophrenia [PDF]. Leicester: British Psychological Society.
- Voices in people’s heads more complex than previously thought. (2015, March 10). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150310205707.htm
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