Hearing violent voices in America and in India

Interesting piece in the New York Times about a study that compares voices heard by schizophrenics in the US and in India. The researchers wanted to see if people who heard voices in India heard the same exhortations to violence as those in the US. How influenced by culture were these voices?

‘The two groups of patients have much in common. Neither particularly likes hearing voices. Both report hearing mean and sometimes violent commands. But in our sample of 20 comparable cases from each country, the voices heard by patients in Chennai are considerably less violent than those heard by patients in San Mateo, Calif.’

A small sample, but if this difference is more than co-incidence then this leads to interesting ideas. The ‘voices’ are projections arising from the individual’s unconscious. We would assume that fundamentally similar genetic dispositions and early experiences would have led individuals in both cultures to hear these disturbing voices. However, at some point within this process the individual’s internalised culture leads them to understand the content of their imagined voice in a different way – with more commands to violence in the US. In this way the manifest content of the schizophrenic’s delusions mirror the fascinations held by the wider community.

The author of the piece goes on to note that if the content of the schizophrenic’s voices can be influenced in this way, then the Hearing Voices movement may be on to something in encouraging the individual to engage the ‘voice’ in dialogue.

Read the article here.

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