This week’s ABC Radio All in the Mind had an edition on auditory hallucinations that discusses the experience of ‘hearing voices’ as well as the neuroscience that might explain them.
Hallucinatory voices are still largely mysterious to science. Originally they were linked to psychotic mental illness and particularly schizophrenia, but it later became known that only about 30% of people who hear voices ever become psychiatric patients.
Furthermore, for some people who hear voices, they can seem to exist as separate conscious entities with their own personalities. Someone may experience a number of voices each with a distinct age, sex and accent.
Research has suggested some explanations for why voices occur (it is know that the auditory cortex is activated with hallucinated voices are heard, suggesting that they may be internal thoughts experienced as sound) but many of these other issues are still unresolved.
The programme discusses the current state of research, as well as talking to two voice hearers about the experience itself, including campaigner Ron Coleman who has been particularly active within the Hearing Voices Network.
The network has taken an alternative view to the medical model, which assumes that voices are a symptom of mental disturbance, and encourages hearers to understand their voices in whatever way best promotes successful living.