ISSN : 2146-3123
E-ISSN : 2146-3131

Auditory Hallucinations as Translational Psychiatry: Evidence from Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Kenneth Hugdahl1
1Department of Biological and Medical Psychology, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway
2Division of Psychiatry and Department of Radiology, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway
DOI : 10.4274/balkanmedj.2017.1226

An auditory verbal hallucination (i.e. hearing a voice) is defined as a sensory experience in the absence of a corresponding external sensory source that could explain the phenomenological experience. Using a translational approach, the current status of auditory verbal hallucinations is that they implicate speech perception areas in the left temporal lobe, impairing perception of and attention to external sounds.

In this invited review article, I present a translational perspective and overview of our research on auditory hallucinations in schizophrenia at the University of Bergen, Norway, with a focus on the neuronal mechanisms underlying the phenomenology of experiencing "hearing voices". An auditory verbal hallucination (i.e. hearing a voice) is defined as a sensory experience in the absence of a corresponding external sensory source that could explain the phenomenological experience. I suggest a general frame or scheme for the study of auditory verbal hallucinations, called Levels of Explanation. Using a Levels of Explanation approach, mental phenomena can be described and explained at different levels (cultural, clinical, cognitive, brain-imaging, cellular and molecular). Another way of saying this is that, to advance knowledge in a research field, it is not only necessary to replicate findings, but also to show how evidence obtained with one method, and at one level of explanation, converges with evidence obtained with another method at another level. To achieve breakthroughs in our understanding of auditory verbal hallucinations, we have to advance vertically through the various levels, rather than the more common approach of staying at our favourite level and advancing horizontally (e.g., more advanced techniques and data acquisition analyses). The horizontal expansion will, however, not advance a deeper understanding of how an auditory verbal hallucination spontaneously starts and stops. Finally, I present data from the clinical, cognitive, brain-imaging, and cellular levels, where data from one level validate and support data at another level, called converging of evidence. Using a translational approach, the current status of auditory verbal hallucinations is that they implicate speech perception areas in the left temporal lobe, impairing perception of and attention to external sounds. Preliminary results also show that amygdala is implicated in the emotional «colouring» of the voices and that excitatory neurotransmitters might be involved. What we do not know is why hallucinatory episodes occur spontaneously, why they fluctuate over time, and what makes them spontaneously stop. Moreover, is voice hearing a category or dimension in its own right, independent of diagnosis, and why is the auditory modality predominantly implicated in psychotic disorders, while the visual modality dominates in, for example, neurological diseases?

Keywords : Auditory hallucinations, schizophrenia, functional magnetic resonance imaging, diffusion tensor imaging, neuroimaging, glutamate, dichotic listening
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