A number of new studies have emerged that have revealed significant insight into the nature of hearing voices. The first study looked at hearing voices from a psychological perspective. Based on a Victorian experiment conducted over 100 years ago, one research team have examined the relationship between hearing voices and expectation. A team of scientists led by Yale University in New Haven, CT, set out to investigate this theory in more detail. They wanted to get a better understanding of auditory hallucinations and tease apart the factors that make them worrying for some and a welcome experience for others. For instance, in earlier studies, the Yale team found that self-described voice-hearing psychics experienced similar auditory hallucinations to people with schizophrenia. The crucial difference is how these hallucinations are experienced: the psychics tended to perceive them as a positive experience.The researchers ran the current experiment on four groups: voice-hearers (psychotic and non-psychotic) and non-voice-hearers (psychotic and non-psychotic). The non-psychotic voice-hearing group included clairaudients, which are people who claim to be able to hear voices from the spirit world.
For the study, the researchers used a procedure designed at Yale in the 1890s. Participants are presented with a visual stimulus (a checkerboard) at the same time as an auditory tone. To bring the procedure into the modern world, the participants underwent a brain scan at the same time. The tone varied in volume and sometimes it was not played at all.
The participants were asked to report when they heard the tone by pressing a button. And, by holding down the button for a longer period of time, they could signify how confident they were that they had heard the sound.
Over time, due to expectation, the individuals would report hearing a tone when they saw the checkerboard, even if the tone was not presented. Individuals from all four groups succumbed to the hallucinations, but the effect was much more pronounced in the voice-hearing groups. Additionally, they were likely to be more confident that they had heard the tone when it was not there. Toward the end of the trial, the researchers presented the participants with a higher percentage of no-tone trials. They found that patients with a psychotic illness, whether a voice-hearer or not, were much less likely to notice this change. Conversely, individuals without a psychotic illness were much quicker to update their expectations and beliefs about the association. To read a review click here.
More recently, an new study has precisely identified and targeted an area of the brain which is involved in 'hearing voices,' experienced by many patients with schizophrenia. They have been able to show in a controlled trial that targeting this area with magnetic pulses can improve the condition in some patients.to read more click here.