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Hearing Voices as Agents: Implications For a Clinical Continuum

Ben Alderson-Day
Research Fellow in Psychology, Durham University
Date and Time: 
Wednesday, September 28, 2016 - 05:30

Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 51A (Colloquium Room)


Hearing voices - or having an auditory verbal hallucination - is an experience typically associated with psychosis, but one which also occurs in the general population. In psychosis and other contexts it is often unclear what people really mean when they refer to a "voice" that others cannot hear, and reports of even basic sensory phenomenology can vary considerably. Many voices are described as having consistent characters or personas, leading some to argue that we should think of voices primarily as an experience of social, agent-like entities (irrespective of their sensory form). In my talk I will review this argument, specifically with regard to how meaning and identity take priority in the voice-hearing experience. I will argue that, while an "agents-first" approach to voices is valuable, it may also highlight important differences that ultimately challenge the view of a voice-hearing "continuum" in the general population. 


I am a Research Fellow in Psychology at Durham University (UK) and a co-investigator of "Hearing the Voice", an interdisciplinary project and research team funded by the Wellcome Trust to investigate auditory verbal hallucinations. My work primarily focuses on the experience of hallucinations in those without a psychiatric diagnosis and how this may relate to everyday experiences of inner speech (or self-talk) in the general population. Prior to joining Hearing the Voice in 2012, I worked on autism and deafness in the completion of a PhD at the University of Edinburgh and as a research assistant in the National Health Service.