Background. Contemporary cognitive models of auditory verbal hallucinations propose that they arise through defective self-monitoring. We used a paradigm that engages verbal self-monitoring to investigate this theory in patients with schizophrenia.
Methods. Ten patients with auditory verbal hallucinations and delusions (hallucinators), eight patients with delusions but no hallucinations (non-hallucinators), and 20 non-psychiatric control subjects were tested. Participants read single adjectives aloud, under the following randomized conditions: reading aloud; reading aloud with acoustic distortion of their own voice; reading aloud with alien feedback (someone else's voice); and reading aloud with distorted alien feedback. Immediately after articulating each word, participants identified the source of the speech they heard (‘self’/‘other’/‘unsure’), via a button press. Response choice and reaction time were recorded.
Results. When reading aloud with distorted feedback of their own voice, patients in both groups made more errors than controls; they either misidentified its source or were unsure. Hallucinators were particularly prone to misattributing their distorted voice to someone else, and were more likely to make errors when the words presented were derogatory. Both patient groups made faster decisions than controls about the source of distorted or alien speech, but faster responses were only associated with errors in the former condition.
Conclusions. Impaired verbal self-monitoring was evident in both hallucinators and non-hallucinators. As both groups had delusions, the results suggest an association between delusions and impaired judgements about ambiguous sensory stimuli. The specific tendency of hallucinators to misattribute their distorted voice to someone else may reflect impaired awareness of internally generated verbal material.