If You’ve Ever Heard a Voice That Wasn’t There, This Could Be Why

In a recent study, scientists in Switzerland made a fascinating discovery about how people sometimes experience hallucinations, particularly hearing voices. They didn’t use drugs or isolation chambers for this experiment. Instead, they asked volunteers to sit in a chair and push a button.

When they pressed the button, a rod gently touched their back a fraction of a second later. After a few rounds of this, the volunteers began to feel as if someone was behind them. This strange sensation arose because their actions and the sensations they felt didn’t quite match up, leading their minds to generate an explanation: they believed there was another person present in the room with them.

 

In the same lab, the researchers conducted a new study, focusing on the experience of hearing voices. They used the same setup with the ghostly finger to investigate this phenomenon. They found that volunteers were more likely to report hearing a voice when there was a delay between pushing the button and feeling the rod’s touch, compared to when there was no delay.

The research findings indicate that hallucinations, such as hearing voices, may have their neurological basis in how the brain processes conflicting signals from the environment. Pavo Orepic, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Geneva and an author of the study, mentioned that hearing voices are more common than people might assume.

Surveys have revealed that even individuals without psychiatric diagnoses

Possibly 5 to 10 percent of the general population, report having heard a disembodied voice at some point in their lives. Dr. Orepic emphasized that there’s a spectrum of these experiences, with everyone occasionally hallucinating. For example, when tired, people are more prone to hallucinations.

In the study, volunteers were asked to sit in a chair and press a button, causing a rod to touch their backs. During some sessions, there was no delay between pressing the button and feeling the touch, while in others, there was a half-second delay, leading to the sensation that someone was nearby.

Throughout the trials, the volunteers listened to recordings of pink noise, a gentler version of white noise. These recordings included fragments of their own voice, someone else’s voice, or no voice at all. After each trial, the volunteers were asked if they had heard anyone speaking.

The study discovered that when people were already experiencing the eerie feeling of a ghostly presence, they were more likely to report hearing a voice when there was no actual voice present. Additionally, hearing a non-existent voice was more probable if, earlier in the experiment, they had heard bursts of noise containing someone else’s voice. This indicates that the brain was linking the hallucinated presence and the voice.

The study revealed some intriguing findings. Even volunteers with no delay between pressing the button and feeling the rod occasionally reported hearing non-existent voices. They were more likely to do so if they had recently heard clips of their own voice. This suggests that if volunteers unconsciously believed they were causing the sensation of the finger on their backs, they might have been primed to expect to hear their own voice.

Taken together, these findings support the idea that hallucinations may be linked to difficulties in recognizing one’s own actions and being predisposed to expect a particular outcome. Dr. Orepic suggests that as time passed, individuals experiencing the sensation of a ghostly presence in the trial became increasingly likely to hear voices. This implies that the brain might draw on past experiences to create the impression of someone speaking.

To delve deeper into how the brain constructs the impression of a voice when none is present, Dr. Orepic proposes that healthy individuals who regularly hear voices, like mediums who believe they can communicate with the deceased, could provide valuable insights. Ongoing studies at Yale with such individuals could shed light on how these beliefs develop and how they might be managed. While hearing voices may not be unwelcome for mediums, this research may offer hope for those whose hallucinations are distressing and disruptive, providing them with some peace.

 Conclusion

a recent study from the University of Geneva shed light on the intriguing phenomenon of hearing voices, which affects a surprising number of people, even those without psychiatric diagnoses. The research revealed that our brains may create these hallucinations when we experience a disconnect between our actions and our sensations.

The study showed that people were more likely to report hearing voices when there was a delay between their button-pressing action and the rod’s touch, suggesting that our brains may struggle to reconcile contradictory signals from the environment.

Additionally, the research pointed to the brain’s tendency to link the sensation of a ghostly presence with hearing voices when one is already experiencing the former. This implies that hallucinations may arise from difficulties in recognizing one’s own actions and from being primed to expect certain outcomes. Over time, individuals experiencing the sensation of a ghostly presence were increasingly likely to hear voices, indicating that the brain draws upon past experiences to construct the impression of someone speaking.

The study opens the door to further exploration into how the brain creates the illusion of voices and how this phenomenon can be better understood and managed, potentially offering relief to those whose hallucinations cause distress and disruption.

 

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1: What was the recent study conducted at the University of Geneva about?

A: A recent study at the University of Geneva focused on the phenomenon of hearing voices and how our brains create hallucinations. It explored the neurological basis of hearing voices, particularly when there’s a disconnect between our actions and sensations.

Q2: How did the study investigate the experience of hearing voices?

A: The study used a setup where volunteers pressed a button, and a rod touched their backs with or without a delay. They also listened to recordings of pink noise with their own voice, someone else’s voice, or no voice. Volunteers were asked if they had heard anyone speaking after each trial.

Q3: What did the study findings suggest about the link between a ghostly presence and hearing voices?

A: The study found that people were more likely to report hearing voices when they already experienced the sensation of a ghostly presence. This indicates that our brains may link the hallucinated presence with hearing voices.

Q4: Why do some people hear voices, even those without psychiatric diagnoses?

A: Surveys have revealed that around 5 to 10 percent of the general population, including those without psychiatric diagnoses, report having heard disembodied voices at some point in their lives. These experiences may be more common than previously assumed, and they can be influenced by factors like fatigue.

Q5: How might the study’s findings be applied to help those whose hallucinations are distressing?

A: The study’s findings open the door to further exploration into how the brain creates the illusion of voices. This research may provide valuable insights for managing distressing hallucinations and offering relief to those affected.