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Study Probes What Happens When People Hear Voices

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A new study has discovered that people who hear voices — both with and without a diagnosed psychotic illness — are more sensitive than other people to a 125-year-old experiment designed to induce hallucinations.

And the subjects’ ability to learn that these hallucinations were not real may help pinpoint those in need of psychiatric treatment, according to researchers at Yale University.

People with schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses often report hearing voices, but so do other people with no diagnosed psychiatric disorder, the researchers noted.

Drs. Philip Corlett, an assistant professor of psychiatry, and Al Powers, a clinical instructor in psychiatry, wanted to identify factors that contribute to auditory hallucinations and to tease apart what makes some people’s experiences troubling and others’ benign.

“Hallucinations may arise from an imbalance between our expectations about the environment and the information we get from our senses,” said Powers, the study’s lead author. “You may perceive what you expect, not what your senses are telling you.”

To test this theory, they used a technique developed at Yale in the 1890s designed to induce auditory hallucinations.

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