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Previously, we described 103 adults (mean age 41 years) who experienced frequent, auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH), in the absence of a need for mental healthcare. Importantly, these adults were largely past the peak incidence age for psychosis (15–35 years). It is unclear if these older individuals with AVH are still at increased risk for psychosis or other psychopathology. To address this question, we conducted a 5-year follow-up of previously included individuals (103 with AVH, 60 controls).
Eighty-one adults with AVH (78.6%) and forty-nine controls (81.7%) could be contacted and were willing to participate. Participants were screened for psychosis and a need for mental healthcare at follow-up using the Comprehensive Assessment of Symptoms and History interview (CASH). Need for mental healthcare was defined as a clinical diagnosis as identified using the CASH and/or treatment by a mental healthcare specialist. Phenomenology of AVH was assessed with the PSYRATS Auditory Hallucinations Rating Scale.
Five individuals with AVH (6.2%) had developed psychosis and 32 (39.5%) had developed a need for mental healthcare. Voice-related distress at baseline significantly predicted need for mental healthcare. AVH persisted in most individuals (86.4%), without significant changes in phenomenology. None of the controls had developed psychotic symptoms, and need for mental healthcare (n = 6, 12.2%) was significantly lower in this group.
These findings suggest that frequent AVH in non-psychotic adults past the peak incidence age for psychosis constitute a rather static symptom and that individuals with AVH may be best viewed as situated on a need for care continuum.
Although auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH) are a core symptom of schizophrenia, they also occur in non-psychotic individuals, in the absence of other psychotic, affective, cognitive and negative symptoms. AVH have been hypothesized to result from deviant integration of inferior frontal, parahippocampal and superior temporal brain areas. However, a direct link between dysfunctional connectivity and AVH has not yet been established. To determine whether hallucinations are indeed related to aberrant connectivity, AVH should be studied in isolation, for example in non-psychotic individuals with AVH.
Resting-state connectivity was investigated in 25 non-psychotic subjects with AVH and 25 matched control subjects using seed regression analysis with the (1) left and (2) right inferior frontal, (3) left and (4) right superior temporal and (5) left parahippocampal areas as the seed regions. To correct for cardiorespiratory (CR) pulsatility rhythms in the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data, heartbeat and respiration were monitored during scanning and the fMRI data were corrected for these rhythms using the image-based method for retrospective correction of physiological motion effects RETROICOR.
In comparison with the control group, non-psychotic individuals with AVH showed increased connectivity between the left and the right superior temporal regions and also between the left parahippocampal region and the left inferior frontal gyrus. Moreover, this group did not show a negative correlation between the left superior temporal region and the right inferior frontal region, as was observed in the healthy control group.
Aberrant connectivity of frontal, parahippocampal and superior temporal brain areas can be specifically related to the predisposition to hallucinate in the auditory domain.
Hallucinations have consistently been associated with traumatic experiences during childhood. This association appears strongest between physical and sexual abuse and auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH). It remains unclear whether traumatic experiences mainly colour the content of AVH or whether childhood trauma triggers the vulnerability to experience hallucinations in general. In order to investigate the association between hallucinations, childhood trauma and the emotional content of hallucinations, experienced trauma and phenomenology of AVH were investigated in non-psychotic individuals and in patients with a psychotic disorder who hear voices.
A total of 127 non-psychotic individuals with frequent AVH, 124 healthy controls and 100 psychotic patients with AVH were assessed for childhood trauma. Prevalence of childhood trauma was compared between groups and the relation between characteristics of voices, especially emotional valence of content, and childhood trauma was investigated.
Both non-psychotic individuals with AVH and patients with a psychotic disorder and AVH experienced more sexual and emotional abuse compared with the healthy controls. No difference in the prevalence of traumatic experiences could be observed between the two groups experiencing AVH. In addition, no type of childhood trauma could distinguish between positive or negative emotional valence of the voices and associated distress. No correlations were found between sexual abuse and emotional abuse and other AVH characteristics.
These results suggest that sexual and emotional trauma during childhood render a person more vulnerable to experience AVH in general, which can be either positive voices without associated distress or negative voices as part of a psychotic disorder.
Auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH) in patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are frequently claimed to be brief, less severe and qualitatively different from those in schizophrenia, hence the term ‘pseudohallucinations’. AVH in BPD may be more similar to those experienced by healthy individuals, who experience AVH in a lower frequency and with a more positive content than AVH in schizophrenia. In this study the phenomenology of AVH in BPD patients was compared to that in schizophrenia and to AVH experienced by non-patients.
In a cross-sectional setting, the phenomenological characteristics of AVH in 38 BPD patients were compared to those in 51 patients with schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder and to AVH of 66 non-patients, using the Psychotic Symptom Rating Scales (PSYRATS).
BPD patients experienced AVH for a mean duration of 18 years, with a mean frequency of at least daily lasting several minutes or more. The ensuing distress was high. No differences in the phenomenological characteristics of AVH were revealed among patients diagnosed with BPD and those with schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder, except for ‘disruption of life’, which was higher in the latter group. Compared to non-patients experiencing AVH, BPD patients had higher scores on almost all items.
AVH in BPD patients are phenomenologically similar to those in schizophrenia, and different from those in healthy individuals. As AVH in patients with BPD fulfil the criteria of hallucinations proper, we prefer the term AVH over ‘pseudohallucinations’, so as to prevent trivialization and to promote adequate diagnosis and treatment.
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