When people say they hear voices no one else can, it can be an indication of mental illness, such as schizophrenia, or it could be some sort of auditory hallucination—and per Joseph Frankel's examination in the Atlantic, some scientists think such a sensory glitch might not always be bad. They say that whether hearing voices causes psychological distress may come down to one's environment, meaning how one feels about the voices he or she hears may depend on whether the surrounding society immediately deems such a confession as evidence of psychosis, or if it barely raises a collective eyebrow. This social support, or lack of it, is what intrigued Philip Corlett and Albert Powers (a Yale psychologist and psychiatrist, respectively), and so they set out to find a group of "healthy voice hearers" to help the researchers "understand where disorder and difference intersect."
Their chosen demographic: psychics, a group that often pegs voice-hearing as a positive experience (unlike patients diagnosed with mental disorders, who call it more "bothersome"). Frankel notes a cottage industry complete with advocacy groups has cropped up to offer more positive support. One receptive listener says she considers her voices, which she thinks arose from trauma, to be "a source of insight into solvable emotional problems." The researchers are careful to acknowledge genuine psychosis does exist (and people shouldn't avoid meds if that's the case), but they still want to examine psychics more closely, as that group has often learned to "control" the voices they hear (e.g., they can choose not to be "open" if they're at work). What the researchers find, they say, could lead to more effective methods of treating people who aren't able to keep their own voices in check. Read the full story. (The link between schizophrenia and the ability to tickle oneself.)