Did You Hear That? On Destigmatizing Hallucinations


From Psychology Today: “Few of us go around proudly announcing that we’ve been hallucinating. But many of us have. Estimates put the percentage of individuals in the adult population who hear voices when no one is speaking at around 13 percent. Perhaps more common is the phenomenon of feeling one’s cell phone vibrate, when, in fact, it has not. Evidence suggests that this is quite widespread — 68 percent of subjects in one study reported experiencing ‘phantom vibrations,’ and 13 percent experienced them daily…It’s clear that there are many non-psychotic individuals experiencing hallucinations.

What explains this trend? Recent research suggests that the answer has to do with how perception works. Rather than moving about the world passively perceiving things, it seems we actively anticipate incoming sensory evidence on the basis of prior beliefs. Perception is, in part, based on prediction. Hallucinations appear to have something to do with what the perceiver is expecting to happen. Part of the explanation for why you think your phone vibrated may be that you were expecting a text or call.

This research would both support and benefit from a change in the way we tend to think about hallucinations. The fact that many of us experience banal hallucinations should induce a reckoning with the usual stigma attached to the phenomenon. If one in eight adults experience hearing voices that aren’t there, perhaps regular folks and medical professionals alike should have more open minds about reporting such experiences and engaging with such reports in a manner that does not immediately pathologize them. This will help subjects wishing to share their experiences feel more comfortable doing so, and it will help researchers in the quest to explain what’s going on.”

Article →


  1. This discussion wouldn’t be happening if shrinks used truly quantitative diagnostic techniques instead of just looking at a few common perceptual and/or mood symptoms and signs. Then I wouldn’t have to risk going to jail because I felt obliged to deal therapeutically with some inept professional’s failure.

    Report comment

  2. “It’s clear that there are many non-psychotic individuals experiencing hallucinations.” The definition of psychosis is:

    “Psychosis is an abnormal condition of the mind that results in difficulties determining what is real and what is not.[4] Symptoms may include false beliefs (delusions) and seeing or hearing things that others do not see or hear (hallucinations).”

    One would think the editors of Psychology Today would have an understanding of the definition of psychosis. Perhaps destigmatizing the concept of psychosis should go hand in hand with destigmatizing the concept of hallucinations? Since if you hallucinate this means, by definition, that you are psychotic.

    And hallucinating and/or being psychotic are apparently common human traits, as opposed to being symptoms of “life long, incurable, genetic mental illnesses.”

    Report comment

    • “If one in eight adults experience hearing voices that aren’t there, perhaps regular folks and medical professionals alike should have more open minds about reporting such experiences and engaging with such reports in a manner that does not immediately pathologize them.” You think? But if the psychologists and psychiatrists don’t immediately pathologize people who they do not know for sins such as dreaming, which the psychologists and psychiatrists believe is psychosis. The psychiatrists won’t be able to poison the innocent dreamers forever, and ever, and ever, with their neurotoxic, psychosis creating antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs.


      “This will help subjects wishing to share their experiences feel more comfortable doing so, and it will help researchers in the quest to explain what’s going on.” Anticholinergic toxidrome poisoning is likely what’s been “going on.” Although, there is rumor on the internet that there is a technology called “the voice of god technology,” which apparently allows satanists to put their voices in other people’s heads. Perhaps this technology is one the “mental health professionals” should discuss?

      Report comment

      • I never experienced hallucinations – I just didn’t.

        My doctor (at the time) concocted “voices” out of my own normal (social) thought to record the “symptom”. Once I was then put onto “medication” – I was finished.

        The way I felt when I tried to come off “medication” was such that I believed I did suffer from an “illness”. Many many people end up in psychiatry in the same way.

        Report comment

    • I’m waiting for some authority to proclaim that pellagra’s a life-long genetic illness. Or that depression from beriberi or scurvy proves that they’re life-long genetic illnesses. Or that dysperceptions caused by mercury poisoning are part of a life-long genetic illness.

      Report comment

  3. In my opinion bio-psychiatry has it wrong when they claim blocking dopamine is the main target for reducing psychotic symptoms like hallucination. It may make you indifferent to them, though. 5HT2A seems to be more pertinent. LSD seems to be a 5HT2A agonist, which causes the altered perception. Also, people build up a tolerance over time to LSD, caused by a down-regulation of 5HT2A receptors, something bio-shrinks wont admit is the case for neuroleptics.

    Report comment

    • @ despondent

      To continue the theme… which neurochemical do you think was primarily involved in you formulating that opinion?

      LSD, btw, affects the entire brain/nervous system, all of the time that it is active. And the brain is processing information and patterns in peculiarly parallel ways, all of the time, at differing frequencies. LSD kinda screws with all of that, in equally complex ways.

      The dopamine hypothesis is a crude reductionist attempt to make meaning. I think the only actual purpose it serves is to legitimise the neuroleptics.

      5HT2A is the term scientists use instead of serotonin. Fixating on that is also a reductionist attempt to make meaning.

      How many identified neurochemicals are there now?

      Report comment

      • I’m comparing the psychopharmacology of LSD and antipsychotics like Olanzapine. Broadly speaking, they have opposite effects, although LSD seems more complex. Serotonin seems to play a key role here, though not the only one.

        Also, from what I can tell, dopamine plays only a secondary role in the atypicals at lower dosages. Not, though, at high dosages. If, for example, a psychiatrists decides to increase olanzapine from 10mg to 20mg because the person is showing signs of “psychosis”, it will block dopamine at levels that greatly increase the probability of tardive dyskenisia.

        Report comment

          • Well, that is a bonus effect of the chemical olanzapine at work (or lack of work). Histamine receptor binding at very low dosages. Increased appetite. Especially for food that is really no good for you. But, it’s better than 20mg haldol, no?

            Problem with olanzapine, before you get to the juicy dopamine antagonism, you have to sacrifice histamine and serotonin.

            Report comment

        • @despondent

          I wasn’t struggling with understanding what you were doing. I was more puzzled as to why you were bothering.

          Then again, that calls into equal question my eagerness to reply.

          And again, I’m not sure which of the neurochemicals is driving me to do this. Or drove you to reply the way you did.

          I read a blog piece years ago by The Last Psychiatrist so share your “back of a cigarette packet” understanding of neurology.

          What concerns me is this. All of the antipsychotics at low doses (ie suboptimal) are not acting on the dopaminergic system per se, but moreso on the histaminergic system.

          So a low dose antipsychotic is effectively a high dose antihistamine.

          Now way back when I was self-medicating with antihistamines I was warned that long term I was risking an antihistamine-induced psychosis. And I looked this up. And I found this to be evidenced. And in fact that is why people are discouraged from using antihistamines long-term and high dose as a sleep aid. Doing so can induce psychosis.

          So when I read on here and elsewhere and encounter people in the real world who advocate for the compromise of a low-dose antipsychotic (which, remember, acts as a high-dose antihistamine) I can’t help but feel troubled and a smidge alarmed.

          Might it be that this is actually dreadful advice? Might it be that that low dose antipsychotic is actually perpetuating someone’s suffering?

          Makes you wonder, innit bro.

          Report comment