Does religious belief enable positive interpretation of auditory hallucinations? A comparison of religious voice hearers with and without psychosis
Introduction. Hearing voices occurs in people without psychosis. Why hearing voices is such a key pathological feature of psychosis whilst remaining a manageable experience in nonpsychotic people is yet to be understood. We hypothesised that religious voice hearers would interpret voices in accordance with their beliefs and therefore experience less distress. Methods. Three voice hearing groups, which comprised: 20 mentally healthy Christians, 15 Christian patients with psychosis, and 14 nonreligious patients with psychosis. All completed (1) questionnaires with rating scales measuring the perceptual and emotional aspects of hallucinated voices, and (2) a semistructured interview to explore whether religious belief is used to make sense of the voice hearing experience. Results. The three groups had perceptually similar experiences when hearing the voices. Mentally healthy Christians appeared to assimilate the experience with their religious beliefs (schematic processing) resulting in positive interpretations. Christian patients tended not to assimilate the experience with their religious beliefs, frequently reporting nonreligious interpretations that were predominantly negative. Nearly all participants experienced voices as powerful, but mentally healthy Christians reported the power of voices positively. Conclusion. Religious belief appeared to have a profound, beneficial influence on the mentally healthy Christians? interpretation of hearing voices, but had little or no influence in the case of Christian patients.