Washington: A new study has provided a deeper insight into the nature of voices inside a person's head.
According to new research by Durham and Stanford universities, voices in people's heads are far more varied and complex than previously thought.
One of the largest and most detailed studies to date on the experience of auditory hallucinations, commonly referred to as voice hearing, found that the majority of voice-hearers hear multiple voices with distinct character-like qualities, with many also experiencing physical effects on their bodies.
The study also confirmed that both people with and without psychiatric diagnoses hear voices.
The findings questioned some of the current assumptions about the nature of hearing voices and suggest there is a greater variation in the way voices are experienced than was typically recognized.
The researchers stated that this variation means different types of therapies could be needed for voice-hearers, such as tailored Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) geared towards distinct voice sub-types or patterns of voice hearing.
Current common approaches to help with voices include medication, CBT, voice dialogue techniques and other forms of therapy and self-help.
Auditory hallucinations are a common feature of many psychiatric disorders, such as psychosis, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but are also experienced by people without psychiatric conditions. It was estimated that between five and 15 per cent of adults would experience auditory hallucinations during their lifetimes.
This was one of the first studies to shed light on the nature of voice-hearing both inside and outside schizophrenia, across many different mental health diagnoses.
The data also suggested that a need to think much more carefully about the distinction between imagined percepts, such as sound, and perception was required.
The study is published in The Lancet Psychiatry.