Psychologist logo

Hearing the voice - changing perceptions, dispelling myths

Ella Rhodes reports on new funding for the multidisciplinary project.

03 September 2015

A multidisciplinary, five-year project which aims to research and explore voice-hearing has received £2.75 million from the Wellcome Trust. Hearing the Voice involves experts from cognitive neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry, philosophy, English literature, theology and the medical humanities, led by psychologist Charles Fernyhough (Durham University.)

This funding is one of the first of the Trust’s Social Science Collaborative Awards; a second was given to The Centre for the History of the Emotions (Queen Mary, University of London).

Hearing the Voice, which started in 2012, will now be expanded to help the research team continue their work with local clinicians, mental health professionals, voice-hearers and other ‘experts by experience’.

Professor Fernyhough said the group’s research so far had revealed voice-hearing to be a complex, varied experience with rich significances across cultures and historical periods. He said of the future of the project: ‘We’ll be asking about the varied sensory experiences that accompany voice-hearing and how they help us to understand it as a communicative act. We’re looking at how voices relate to autobiographical memory, imagination and creativity, and continuing with our examination of the links between voice-hearing and inner speech, including pioneering new approaches to studying their neural bases.’

On the collaboration between such a diverse group of researchers, Fernyhough said the thing that helped them work together was their drive towards the same end – to understand voice-hearing by speaking to people who have experienced it. He said the funding would be essential in helping the group engage with the public.

‘A big part of our work involves trying to change perceptions about voice-hearing and reduce the stigma associated with it. In the next five years we will be working on major exhibitions, publications and artistic initiatives that will, we hope, help to dispel some of the myths and misconceptions that surround hearing voices,’ he said.

Dan O’Connor, Head of Humanities and Social Science at the Wellcome Trust, added: ‘We are absolutely delighted to be able to support these two genuinely innovative and exciting research visions. These are some of the largest research awards ever made to the humanities in the UK, almost unique in their scale and scope. Both hold out the promise of making genuinely ground breaking changes in both our understanding of, and approaches to, the diverse spectrum of human experience.’ 

- See also 'The voices others cannot hear'.