A team from Yale University enlisted help from psychics to learn why individuals with psychosis hear voices in their heads. They chose psychics and others who hear voices because they continue living without being diagnosed as mentally ill. They discovered that the voices psychics hear are similar to those reported by people with schizophrenia.
However, there were some pretty significant differences. The journal Schizophrenia Bulletin published the study on September 28th of this year. It states that people with schizophrenia fear the internal voices they hear and that they’re usually negative for them. Psychics, on the other hand, regarded the voices as helpful and positive and saw them as an experience they could control.
“We have known for some time that people in the general population can have the experience of hearing voices- sometimes frequently- without the need for psychiatric intervention.”Albert Powers, Lead Author
Experts discovered that as many as one in 25 individuals hear voices at any time. Up to 40 percent of the population report hearing a voice at least once. Most don’t meet the criteria for mental illness, but locating healthy people who hear voices has been difficult for researchers.
“Studying psychics through the lens of voice-hearing may give us important insights into why they can function so well without the need for psychiatric care,” said Powers. Powers worked with Yale neuroscience graduate student Megan Kelley and assistant professor of psychiatry and senior author on the paper Phillip Corlett to study a group called clairaudient psychics. These are people who report receiving daily audio messages.
How Did Psychiatrists Test The Psychics?
Forensic psychiatrists gave the clairaudients tests designed to recognize people falsely claiming to be hearing voices to avoid criminal prosecution. After being tested, psychiatrists determined that both the psychosis patients and the psychics scored similarly on these tests.
Researchers noted that those with schizophrenia were much more likely to report negative experiences when they heard or discussed the voices they heard with others. When researchers compared the schizophrenia patients’ experiences with the psychics’ and a control group of healthy individuals, they claimed to have discovered clues as to what could be protecting the group of healthy voice-hearers from those with schizophrenia.
“These individuals have a much higher degree of control over the voices. They are also more willing to engage with and view the voices as positive or neutral to their lives […]
We predict this population will teach us a lot about the neurobiology, cognitive psychology, and eventually treatment of distressing voices.”Phillip Corlett, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
Researchers acknowledge that their approach and using psychics in their study are somewhat unusual. Still, doing so is justified due to the lack of treatment options for those suffering from schizophrenia. “Our understanding of psychosis is limited, and we’ve made only incremental progress for the past 50 years,” says Corlett. “The research may be unusual, but big, intractable problems require creative and sometimes unorthodox solutions.”