A new study suggests that schizophrenic people in more collectivist societies sometimes think their auditory hallucinations are helpful.
As a child, Joe Holt constantly thought he heard people hurling savage insults at him. When he would confront them, they would deny having said anything, enraging him further. Holt’s angry outbursts eventually cost him dozens of jobs and relationships. Years later, a diagnosis explained the years of pain and paranoia: Holt had schizophrenia.
Holt’s story, reported in a 2011 New York Times article, is typical of the way many Americans experience schizophrenia. Auditory hallucinations are one of the illness’s telltale signs. The imagined voices torment sufferers throughout the day, jeering them or nudging them toward violence.
But a new study suggests that the way schizophrenia sufferers experience those voices depends on their cultural context. Surprisingly, schizophrenic people from certain other countries don’t hear the same vicious, dark voices that Holt and other Americans do. Some of them, in fact, think their hallucinations are good—and sometimes even magical.
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