Background. To test the hypothesis that certain psychotic symptomatology is due to a defect in self- monitoring, we investigated the ability of groups of psychiatric patients to differentiate perceptually between self-produced and externally produced tactile stimuli.
Methods. Responses to tactile stimulation were assessed in three groups of subjects: schizophrenic patients; patients with bipolar affective disorder or depression; and normal control subjects. Within the psychiatric groups subjects were divided on the basis of the presence or absence of auditory hallucinations and/or passivity experiences. The subjects were asked to rate the perception of a tactile sensation on the palm of their left hand. The tactile stimulation was either self-produced by movement of the subject's right hand or externally produced by the experimenter.
Results. Normal control subjects and those psychiatric patients with neither auditory hallucinations nor passivity phenomena experienced self-produced stimuli as less intense, tickly and pleasant than identical, externally produced tactile stimuli. In contrast, psychiatric patients with these symptoms did not show a decrease in their perceptual ratings for tactile stimuli produced by themselves as compared with those produced by the experimenter. This failure to show a difference in perception between self-produced and externally produced stimuli appears to relate to the presence of auditory hallucinations and/or passivity experiences rather than to the diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Conclusions. We propose that auditory hallucinations and passivity experiences are associated with an abnormality in the self-monitoring mechanism that normally allows us to distinguish self-produced from externally produced sensations.