Why Do Schizophrenics Hear Voices?

This post is based largely on portions of the sixth chapter in Elixir J. Sternberg’s Book “Neurologic and the Brain’s idea Rationale Behind Our Irrational Behavior.” The title of this post is the same as the title of Chapter 6.  The subtitle of Chapter 6 is “On Language,Hallucinations and the Self/nonself Distinction.

Auditory hallucinations are two of the symptoms of schizophrenia.  If you saw the movie, “A Beautiful Mind” about the Nobel Prize winning John Nash (Nash Equilibrium), you should have a good idea of the nature of schizophrenia.  Here was an outstanding mind that was cursed with auditory hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thinking.

In the 1940s the psychiatrist Louis Gould theorized and proved that these hallucinations were coming from subvocal speech.  Sometimes we use subvocal speech when we are thinking or trying to perform a challenging task.  And sometimes this subvocal speech can unknowingly become vocal and can lead to embarrassment.

Unfortunately, when schizophrenics are told that these auditory hallucinations are actually their subvocal speech, they deny that the speech is their own.  Schizophrenics have been known to shriek to silence these voices.  Humming aloud and counting aloud can also diminish, but not eliminate these hallucinations.

It is interesting that schizophrenics who are deaf also experience auditory hallucinations.  Sometimes they contend that they actually hear speech.  At other times they say that they are reading lips or interpreting signing.  What is interesting is the same regions of the brain, the prefrontal cortex and the superior temporal gyrus are involved in following a conversation regardless of the nature of the input.

Sternberg titled one section of this chapter “Why Can’t You Tickle Yourself?”  My first thought was why is this section in a chapter on schizophrenia?  Believe it or not, research has been conducted to answer the question of why we can’t tickle ourselves.  They’ve even developed a machine which allows us to tickle ourselves.  It did not work unless two modifications were made to the machine.  A delay needed to be introduced, and the pattern needed to differ from the pattern used by the participant.  Then it worked.

Apparently we have a mental representation of our actions when trying to tickle ourselves that prevents us from ticking ourselves because we recognize that these actions were performed by ourself.  There is a distinct self/nonself distinction.  This being the case, the question is whether schizophrenics can tickle themselves.  The answer is yes due to a defective self/nonself barrier.

Defective self/noself barriers are key to schizophrenia.  John Nash eventually was able to lead a normal life.  He still had hallucinations, but he was able to ignore them because he had managed to raise he self/nonself barrier.


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