People who hear voices that other people can't hear may use unusual skills when their brains process new sounds, according to research led by Durham University and University College London (UCL). The study, published online on August 20, 2017 in the academic journal Brain, found that voice-hearers could detect disguised speech-like sounds more quickly and easily than people who had never had a voice-hearing experience. The open-access article is titled “Distinct processing of ambiguous speech in people with non-clinical auditory verbal hallucinations.” The findings suggest that voice-hearers have an enhanced tendency to detect meaningful speech patterns in ambiguous sounds. The researchers say this insight into the brain mechanisms of voice-hearers tells us more about how these experiences occur in voice-hearers without a mental health problem, and could ultimately help scientists and clinicians find more effective ways to help people who find their voices disturbing. The study involved people who regularly hear voices, also known as auditory verbal hallucinations, but do not have a mental health problem. Participants listened to a set of disguised speech sounds known as sine-wave speech while they were having an MRI brain scan. Usually these sounds can only be understood once people are either told to listen out for speech, or have been trained to decode the disguised sounds. Sine-wave speech is often described as sounding a bit like birdsong or alien-like noises. However, after training, people can understand the simple sentences hidden underneath (such as "The boy ran down the path" or "The clown had a funny face").
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