Hallucinatory Messages Tell of Schizophrenia to Come
> 10/25/2007 2:20:57 PM

In the 1980s, Christian groups worked themselves into a frenzy finding hidden messages in rock albums. Styx was accused of putting the backward message "Satan move through our voices", and paranoid listeners insisted that they could hear these evil words despite strong denials from the band. According to a study in the most recent issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, this five word satanic hallucination is enough to place deluded listeners at a significantly elevated risk of developing schizophrenia.

In a study funded by pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, 43 people with minor symptoms that sometimes precede schizophrenia (prodromal symptoms) were put into a sound booth. There they listened to a confusing mix of six voices speaking simultaneously. The mix was designed to jumble sounds so that only four words could be clearly identified: "A-OK," "increase," "children,"  and "Republican." However, as many of our readers surely know from experience, the human mind tries to find meaning in even the most muddled stimuli. When asked to report intelligible words, the majority of the participants listed things that were definitely not spoken by the voice-actors. As false reports like this are entirely normal, researchers looked to the length of imagined phrases to find signs of mental vulnerability.

Only 6% of those subjects who reported phrases of less than three words eventually developed schizophrenia. For those who heard phrases of four or more words, the prognosis was considerably more dire; 80% of those hearing long phrases devolved into Schizophrenia within two years. These results offer both a practical tool and a possible insight into the nature of schizophrenia.

This study was small in size, but its inclusion of only individuals who already displayed precursor symptoms to schizophrenia points to future possibilities for diagnosis. The current early-warning signs—social withdrawal, messiness, etc.—are too vague and too similar to the normal behavioral changes of the teenage years to be accurate. But if early signs converge, and can be buttressed with evidence like auditory hallucinations in non-sense recordings, that can move us closer to a full diagnosis. On the theoretical side, the predictive power of illusory pattern recognition suggests that this problem is a fundamental component of schizophrenia. Earlier studies have demonstrated that the relatives of schizophrenics are more creative, causing scientists like John Nash to speculate that schizophrenia is not a disease but rather a destabilizing extreme of creative power that is normally adaptive for humans. There is a fine line between the great artist finding unique connections between seemingly unrelated images and the schizophrenic hearing meaningful phrases in garbled sounds.

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