The voices heard by people with schizophrenia may simply be thoughts perceived as sound, according to a new Swinburne study.
As many as eight in 10 schizophrenia sufferers hear voices; sometimes sporadically, sometimes chronically.
Auditory hallucinations also affect people with bipolar disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder, and even people with no other manifestations of mental illness.
Professor Susan Rossell, a cognitive neuropsychologist at Swinburne University of Technology, is using powerful new imaging technology to study why some people hear voices and what can be done to help them manage it.
One insight from her work is that voice-hearing appears to be an abnormal experience of a very normal human phenomenon: internal self-talk.
“We all have internal dialogue but we can choose to listen to our thoughts or not to listen to our thoughts,” Professor Rossell says.
Her previous work has shown that this internal dialogue activates the same regions of the brain — the language processing centres — as when someone real is talking to us.
Most people tune out this internal voice, along with all the other sounds we are constantly exposed to. But this ‘attention inhibition switch’ is what Professor Rossell thinks might be malfunctioning in conditions such as schizophrenia.
“We think people who hear voices are not able to correctly filter out the noise in the world around them and included in that noise is their own internal dialogue,” she says.
“When we worked out that hearing voices was just a normal linguistic experience, it was incredibly relieving for the sufferers because we were able to tell our patients that this is part of normal language.”
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