In a Reddit AMA held yesterday, neuroscientists and psychologists from Durham University’s Hearing the Voices project, an initiative to study auditory hallucinations and how they affect people in different cultural contexts, answered questions about their work. Among the things they discussed was the misconception that hearing voices is always a negative experience for people. David Smailes, a postdoctoral research associate in psychology, explained that for many, it’s quite the opposite:
Hearing voices can be a really distressing experience, but for some people, they aren’t. E.g., a Dutch study reported that in a sample of voice-hearers who were not receiving any psychiatric help, 71% reported only positive or neutral voices, 25% heard positive and negative voices, and only 4% heard only negative voices, So, at least in some people, hearing voices can be a relatively positive experience.
For one thing, the research team further explained, the writers and storytellers they’ve interviewed will sometimes talk about the way they can “hear” the voices of the characters they’re creating. And many religious people have experienced hearing the voice of God, offering them comfort in times of distress.
At one point, a Reddit user chimed in with a story about his own positive experience with auditory hallucinations:
I’ve heard voices for most of my life and I used to think it was just the way thoughts work. I’ve described it like a council where different people weigh in on an issue with various perspectives. It really helped me mentally poke at a lot of confusing subjects when I was younger.
We humans, including all of the extra voices some of us are carrying around, are pretty fascinating.