This month in voices: August 2013

MiffyPlenty more research in August, including (inevitably yet thankfully) some from Utrecht. What is the official slogan of the Utrecht Tourist Board I hear you ask. Well, as you ask, it is “Utrecht: Too much fun for one day”. And to be fair, this does seem to be true.

Interested in Dutch Popes? You can visit a house made by Adrianus VI. Interested in Aboriginal Art, but don’t live in Australia? No problem, you can visit the only European museum devoted to contemporary Aboriginal art from Australia. Fan of Miffy the rabbit? Dick Bruna was born there!

Utrect5Feel that leaving train stations could be made more fun? Visit Utrecht’s Overvecht railway station which has a ‘transfer accelerator’ installed (i.e., a big kids slide).  Sick of mindless canoeing? (oddly, if you google “mindless canoeing” the first of the three hits you get contains the phrase “Democratic Convention to save schizophrenic Democrats from their mindless canoeing.” Oh dear). Anyway, Utrecht has “mindful canoeing” to save us from the social blight that is mindless canoeing. But I digress.


manchester4Manchester, England. Hartley and colleagues examine what kind of emotions immediately precede experiences of hearing voices.

Accessible summary: This study employed a technique called experience sampling. In this, people carry mobile phone-like devices with them, which beep randomly 10 times a day, for six days. Each time they beep, the person completes ratings of specific thoughts, emotions and voice-hearing experiences which they are currently having, and have had since the last beep. The study found that both worry and rumination predicted the onset of hearing voices. As such, the authors suggest that working on these issues may help.

Link to paper:


Newcastle3Newcastle, England. In this next study, also from the North of England, Lucy Garwood and colleagues test for the existence of a subtype of voice-hearing called a ‘hypervigilance hallucination’.

Accessible summary. This paper aimed to test Dodgson and Gordon’s theory of hypervigilance hallucinations (HV-AHs). HV-AHs are proposed to result from an exaggeration of the normally useful ability we have to detect threats. The theory suggests that typically some form of stressful life-event occurs (e.g., something happens that you feel ashamed about), and the person then becomes hypervigilant for related threat stimuli (e.g., other people saying things that indicate they know what happened). This is proposed to reduce people’s threshold for detecting threats in the environment and increasing the chance of auditory ‘false-positives’, i.e. hearing voices saying things. As a result of this theory, HV-AHs are proposed to be characterised by hearing either a voice or sounds (e.g., laughter) with threatening content, which is perceived as coming from the external environment. Given the role of hypervigilance, the theory makes the key prediction that HV-AHs will only occur in situations where the individual’s attention is externally-focussed.

This study used cluster analysis to examine whether the properties of voice-hearing which were proposed to characterise HV-AHs did indeed tend to co-occur together. It found, albeit in a small sample of people, that a subset of voices were characterised by the co-occurence of being threatening, externally-located and occurring when attention was externally focussed. A trial of a form of talking therapy (cognitive behavioural therapy), which will try and help with this specific type of voice-hearing, is now underway.

Link to paper:


BangaloreBangalore, India. Shivakumar and colleagues examine the use of tDCS for voice-hearing.

Accessible summary. tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation) is a way to alter the activity of specific parts of the brain, through the application of a mild electrical current directly to the scalp. It appears to be painless and safe. This study offered a single case example, claiming tDCS to be useful for ameliorating voices. It concluded that this technique is worth “exploring through further rigorous studies” (although a larger trial had already been published to this end – see Brunelin et al., 2012)

Link to paper:


AalborgAalborg, Denmark. Pedersen and Nielsen give a new case study of a deaf voice-hearer.

Accessible summary: The paper is free to read, and hasn’t got too much jargon. What particularly stood out for me was when the person had a visual hallucination of her dead cousin and “experienced a two-way verbal communication, both by hearing his voice and by lip reading.” I’d never heard of hallucinated verbal communications via lip reading from a vision before.

Link to paper: (free to access)


The Annual Festival of Unrepetent Stealing of Other Countries National Symbols. This year: Ireland.

The Utrecht Annual Festival of Unrepetent Stealing of Other Countries National Symbols and Subsequent Brandishing of Them. This year: Ireland.

Utrecht, Netherlands. van Lutterveld and colleagues note an important problem with symptom-capture studies of voice-hearing.

Accessible summary: This is probably a paper mainly of interest to researchers, but I felt it important to mention. This interesting short paper examined the validity of studies which ask people to sit in an MRI scanner and indicate when they hear voices by pressing a button, in order to allow researchers to find out what areas of the brain light up when people hear voices (“symptom capture studies”). This study found evidence that the neural activation resulting from the attentional and motor processes involved in detecting a sound meant that it was likely that processes involved in signalling hallucinations explained a large part of the brain activation observed in symptom capture studies. Alternate designs are hence required to work out what areas of the brain are really activated during voice-hearing.

Link to paper:


WombleOther papers:

A Womble proposes a horse sedative as a treatment for PTSD (yes, I’m serious): link here.

Hallucinations as subconscious attempts to restore perceptual coherence: link here.

People with childhood problems with communication, reading and mathematics have an increased risk of developing voice-hearing: link here.

A method for helping psychiatric-mental health nurses help voice hearers: link here.

New case report of auditory hallucinations in a deaf patient. Link here (free to access).

More hallucinations in people born in Winter? Link here (free to access)

That’s all for this month. More stories from a Tourist Board, possibly in your town, next month.



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One Response to This month in voices: August 2013

  1. Robin says:

    Legendary crossoverband Urban Dance Squad comes from Utrecht too. “Life ‘n’ perspectives of a genuine crossover”, good to listen to as an alternative to voice hearing ::-)

    When r u comin’over to the NL?

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