Can hearing voices be a good thing?

September 2006

Researchers in the School of Psychological Sciences are investigating why some people who hear voices in their head consider it a positive experience, while others find it distressing.

Although traditionally viewed as ‘abnormal’ and a symptom of mental illness, Dutch researchers found that 4% of the general population regularly hear voices. Many of these have never felt the need to access mental health services.

Researcher Aylish Campbell said: “Many of those affected describe their voices as being a positive influence in their lives, comforting or inspiring them day-to-day. We’re now investigating why some people respond in this way, while others are distressed and seek outside help.”

Although the voices heard by psychiatric patients and members of the general population seem to be of the same volume and frequency, the former group tend to interpret them as more distressing and negative.

External factors

The team believes that external factors such as a person’s life experiences and beliefs may be the key to these differences, with the presence of childhood trauma or negative beliefs possibly making people more likely to interpret their voices as harmful, hostile or powerful.

“Those being treated for hearing voices are usually given medication in an attempt to eliminate the problem,” Aylish continued. “By investigating the factors influencing how voices are experienced, we hope to contribute to the development of psychological therapies to help people better understand and cope with their voices.”

Volunteers

The team would like to hear from people aged 16 years and over who have been hearing voices for at least six months, whether they have used mental-health services or not. Discussions will be carried out at a location to suit the volunteer in complete privacy.

To find out more please call +44 (0)161 306 0405