The programme discusses the theory that the experience of hearing hallucinated ‘voices in your head’ occurs when we lose the ability to recognise our internal thoughts as our own.
Although there is some good evidence that, for example, people diagnosed with schizophrenia who hear voices are less able to recognise their own actions as their own, one crucial aspect not explained by the theory is why many ‘voice hearers’ experience voices with distinct identities.
For example, someone might hear the voice of their dead parent along with someone they knew from childhood where someone else might have discovered the identities of their voices over time, simply from hearing them speak, and they seem to have no relation to specific people they’ve met in their lives.
The programme suggests the idea, which, as far as I know, has never been discussed in the scientific literature, that the identities of the voices could originate from when we learn to internalise voices of people who give us instructions when we’re children – an approach based on the theories of Lev Vygotsky.
It’s a delightful idea, if not a little blue sky, and is accompanied by a brilliant demonstration of the type of study that focuses on hallucinated voices.
UPDATE: There’s further discussion with references to Vygotsky’s work on self-talk and internalised thought from the interviewee, psychologist Charles Ferynhough, over at a great post on his blog.
Link to RadioLab ‘Voices in Your Head’ edition.