Magazine article Science News

Culture Affects Tones of Voices: Schizophrenia's Hallucinations Tend to Positive in Some Places

Magazine article Science News

Culture Affects Tones of Voices: Schizophrenia's Hallucinations Tend to Positive in Some Places

Article excerpt

People with schizophrenia may hear either hostile voices goading them to jump off a bridge or a mother's soothing words of advice, depending on the cultures in which they live, a new study suggests.

In the United States, schizophrenia's recognized symptoms include hallucinations of disembodied voices that hurl insults and make violent commands. But in India and Ghana, schizophrenia patients often report positive relationships with hallucinated voices that they recognize as those of family members or God, says an international team led by Stanford University anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann. The findings appear in the January British Journal of Psychiatry.

"Learned cultural expectations about the nature of mind and self may encourage Americans with schizophrenia to pay more attention to negative, hostile voices," Luhrmann says.

Much evidence shows that Westerners think of the mind as a fortress guarding private thoughts and of schizophrenia as a broken brain. Americans with schizophrenia in the study--who often referred to hallucinated voices as unreal and as symptoms of a brain disease--homed in on the strangest, most antagonistic voices in their minds, Luhrmann suspects.

Indians and Africans in the study spoke little of their psychiatric diagnosis. Their social worlds emphasize relationships over individuality and the possibility of supernatural contacts with spirits. Many patients in both regions regarded most hallucinated voices as familiar people who couldn't be controlled but who were sensible and likable.

Hearing voices, an experience reported by some mentally healthy people as well as those with schizophrenia (SN: 4/7/12, p. 22), "may be a partially learned and malleable skill," says medical anthropologist Kim Hopper of Columbia University.

Luhrmann, working with two psychiatrists in India and one in Ghana, recruited 20 people in each country receiving treatment for schizophrenia. …

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