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A Link Between Hearing Voices and Hearing Your Own Voice

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It’s the rare one who likes hearing their very own voice on a recording. It sounds fake, one way or the other — prefer it belongs to another person.

For neuroscientists, that quality of otherness is greater than a curiosity. Many mysteries remain concerning the origins of hallucinations, but one hypothesis suggests that when people hear voices, they’re hearing their very own thoughts disguised as one other person’s by a quirk of the brain.

Scientists would really like to grasp what parts of the brain allow us to acknowledge ourselves speaking, but studying this using recordings of individuals’s own voices has proved tricky. Once we talk, we not only hear our voice with our ears, but on some level we feel it because the sound vibrations travel through the bones of the skull.

A study published Wednesday within the journal Royal Society Open Science attempted a workaround. A team of researchers investigated whether people could more accurately recognize their voices in the event that they wore bone-conduction headphones, which transmit sound via vibration. They found that sending a recording through the facial bones made it easier for people to inform their voices aside from those of strangers, suggesting that this technology provides a greater option to study how we are able to tell after we are speaking. That may be a potentially vital step in understanding the origins of hallucinated voices.

Recordings of our voices are likely to sound higher than we expect, said Pavo Orepic, a postdoctoral researcher on the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology who led the study. The vibration of the skull makes your voice sound deeper to yourself than to a listener. But even adjusting recordings in order that they sound lower doesn’t recreate the experience of hearing your individual voice. In its place, the team tried using bone-conduction headphones, that are commercially available and infrequently rest on a listener’s cheekbones just in front of the ear.

The team recorded volunteers saying the syllable “ah” after which blended each recording with other voices to provide sounds that were made up of 15 percent of a given person’s voice, then 30 percent, and so forth. Then, they’d some subjects hearken to a series of the sounds with bone-conduction headphones, while others used normal headphones and one other group tried laptop pc speakers. The volunteers indicated whether or not they thought each sound resembled their very own voice.

Individuals with bone-conduction headphones were more prone to accurately discover their very own voices, the team found. When the researchers tried the identical experiment using the voices of subjects’ friends — pairs of friends were recruited specifically for the study — they found that the bone-conduction headphones made no difference in helping people discover familiar voices. It was only recognizing their very own voices that became easier, suggesting that the devices are recreating a few of what we feel and listen to as we speak.

That opens a door to understanding how one’s brain takes this sensory information and turns it right into a recognition of 1’s self. In a study published last 12 months, the group recorded the neural activity of individuals performing these listening tasks and reported the existence of a network of brain regions which can be activated as people work to discover themselves.

If scientists can understand how the brain builds the concept of self from sound, Dr. Orepic suggests, then perhaps they’ll unpack what’s different in individuals who hear voices of their heads that usually are not their very own. Perhaps someday listening to recordings of voices, including one’s own, with bone conduction devices could help doctors make diagnoses, if the tool’s performance may very well be linked to psychiatric disorders.

In actual fact, the team has already begun to check how individuals who had portions of their brains removed — to treat drug-resistant epilepsy, as an illustration — perform on the duty. The more the brain’s self-recognition network is disturbed by the surgery, the harder the duty of self-recognition becomes, Dr. Orepic said, referring to findings in a study that has yet to be peer-reviewed.

For one patient, whose personality modified substantially after her surgery and who was eventually diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, the test revealed a surprising pattern.

“Each time she heard her voice, she thought it was another person,” Dr. Orepic said. “And when she hears another person, she says ‘It’s me.’”

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