A number of studies have looked at how common voices and visions are in the general population. The following studies share some of what has been found.
The prevalence of voice-hearers in the general population: A literature review.
Authors: Beavan, V., Read, J. & Cartwright, C. (2011).
In: Journal of Mental Health, 20(3), 281-292.
Background: Although traditionally considered a bizarre and aberrant symptom of mental illness, research shows that voice hearing is actually relatively common in the general population.
Aims: To assess the incidence of voice hearing experiences in non-patient adult groups.
Method: A literature review was undertaken to identify existing research studies. Seventeen studies from nine different countries were found and analysed.
Results: Findings were adjusted to control for differences across the studies in terms of definition of voice hearing, cultural variations and methodological dissimilarities. The final prevalence estimate for voice hearing in non-clinical groups was 13%.
Conclusion: Voice hearing exists on a continuum, with many adults hearing voices without any need for psychiatric support.
Auditory hallucinations in adolescent and adult students: Implications for continuums and adult pathology following child abuse.
Authors: Pearson, D., Smalley, M., Ainsworth, C., Cook, M., Boyle, J. & Flury, S. (2008).
In: Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 196(8), 634–638.
Background: Early Intervention in Psychosis services often receive referrals for young people who hear voices under the assumption that this experience is suggestive of serious mental health problems.
Aims: To assess the incidence of voice hearing experiences in non-clinical groups of adolescents and young adults.
Method: 250 adolescents and 250 young adults were asked about their experiences of voice hearing. Participants were recruited from the general population and did not have a history of mental health service use.
Results: The results for the adolescents were very similar to those of the adults, implying a continuum between child and adulthood voice hearing experiences. Combining these results with those from an earlier study suggests a link between distressing voices and traumatic life events (e.g. childhood sexual abuse).
Conclusion: Although adverse life events may predict distressing voices and a need for psychiatric care, voice hearing in young adults should not automatically be presumed as a sign of developing mental health problems.
Auditory hallucinations of hearing voices in 375 normal subjects
Authors: Posey, T. B. & Losch, M. E. (1983–1984).
In: Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 3(2), 99–113.
Background: Julian Jaynes’s theory of the bicameral mind suggests that voice hearing played a role in the evolution of consciousness, and was therefore a common experience for early humans.
Aims: To ascertain voice hearing prevalence in a modern, non-clinical sample.
Method: 375 university students with no history of mental health service use were asked about possible voice hearing experiences.
Results: 71% of the sample had heard voices at some point. This included hearing one’s thoughts spoken aloud (39%), hearing “the voice of God” (11%), and conducting conversations with voices (5%). No associations between voice hearing and mental health problems were found.
Conclusion: Hearing voices should not be automatically seen as a symptom of illness, given that it appears to be relatively common amongst individuals in good psychological health.