A new study looks at why mysterious voices are sometimes taken as spirits and other times as symptoms of mental health issues.
- Both spiritualist mediums and schizophrenics hear voices.
- For the former, this constitutes a gift; for the latter, mental illness.
- A study explores what the two phenomena have in common.
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ5Nzc1OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTU1ODQwOX0.wlQLO9cjh2hFAz9BXwf2DpaqwepAlybru_OH6J4ZwzI/img.jpg?width=2000&coordinates=64%2C74%2C64%2C74&height=1500" id="1156f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6f17461592da75794c7c53dab73bdfed" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2000" data-height="1500" />
Credit: Camila Quintero Franco/Unsplash<p>The researchers, led by <a href="https://www.dur.ac.uk/research/directory/staff/?mode=staff&id=15156" target="_blank">Adam Powell</a> of Durham University's Hearing the Voice project and Department of Theology and Religion, conducted online surveys of 65 clairaudient mediums they found through contact with spiritualist communities. The survey also included 143 people from the general population who responded in the affirmative to the question "Have you ever had an experience you would describe as 'clairaudient?'" posed through an online study recruitment tool.</p><p>All participants spoke English and were aged 18-75. Most (84.4 percent) were from the U.K., with the rest mostly from the North Americas, Europe, or Australasia.</p><p>Of the spiritualists surveyed, 79 percent said hearing voices was a normal part of their lives at church and at home, while 44.6 percent said that they heard voices every day. Most respondents reported the voices as being inside their heads, though 31.7 percent said they came from outside their bodies.</p><p>Not surprisingly, more spiritualists reported believing in the paranormal than did the general population participants. They also cared less about what others thought of them.</p><p>Both groups were prone to visual hallucinations as well.</p>
Youth and absorption<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ5Nzc2NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNzE3MTUyNn0.BsqsYO4KFNF9RX9O6TXYE14RysJgiwXua7FegMBf8Ss/img.jpg?width=980" id="5fe11" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6fb24471c94f7e69617c763927c1dc0e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="1080" />
Credit: Tanner Boriack/Unsplash<p>Spiritualist clairaudients reported their first experiences with other voices early in life. Of these participants, 18 percent said they had heard voices for as long as they remembered. The average age, however, for first hearing voices was 21.7 years. Schizophrenia typically presents when a person is somewhat older than this, in the <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/childhood-schizophrenia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354483" target="_blank">late 20s</a>.</p><p>Significantly, 71 percent said their experience with voices pre-dated their awareness of spiritualism. Rather than religion prompting the hearing of voices, it seems that it's more the other way around — voices led them to religion.</p><p>Says Powell, "Our findings say a lot about 'learning and yearning.' For our participants, the tenets of spiritualism seem to make sense of both extraordinary childhood experiences as well as the frequent auditory phenomena they experience as practicing mediums."</p><p>Still, the voices came first he says, so "all of those experiences may result more from having certain tendencies or early abilities than from simply believing in the possibility of contacting the dead if one tries hard enough."</p><p>The more likely factor is spiritualist clairaudients' relationship with absorption. Responses to questions based on the 34-point <a href="https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~jfkihlstrom/TAS.htm" target="_blank">Tellegen Absorption Scale</a> revealed that these people tended toward absorptive personality characteristics. These are described by the study's authors as "being readily captured by entrancing stimuli, reporting vivid mental imagery, becoming immersed in one's own thoughts."</p><p>Some, though not all, voice-hearing individuals from the general population were found to exhibit high levels of absorption — those that did were more likely to believe in the paranormal than others.</p>
Implications<p>The study's finding regarding the relative young ages at which spiritualist clairaudients begin hearing voices suggests that these individuals' more welcoming attitude toward the phenomenon may have to do with malleability of youth — a belief in the fantastical is part of being young.</p><p>"Spiritualists tend to report unusual auditory experiences which are positive, start early in life and which they are often then able to control," says co-author <a href="https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/about-us/our-staff/m/peter-moseley/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Peter Moseley</a> of Northumbria University. "Understanding how these develop is important because it could help us understand more about distressing or non-controllable experiences of hearing voices too."</p><p>The authors of the study do note, however, that their findings leave two big unanswered questions: Does a tendency toward absorption reveal "a predisposition to having RSEs or a belief in the plausibility of having RSEs?"</p><p>The other obvious big question? It's beyond the scope of this survey, but are those really the voices of the dead?</p>
Research finds that our sense of self can be manipulated by certain smells and sounds.
- Researchers find that there are smells that make us feel thinner and lighter, and other smells that do the opposite.
- The sounds of our footsteps can have a similar effect.
- The researchers suggest that sensory stimuli play a part in our self-image and may be subject to beneficial manipulation.
Lemon, vanilla, and footsteps<p>The research involved two different experiments run consecutively.</p><p>In one, participants were asked to adjust the dimensions of an onscreen 3D avatar so that it best represented themselves as they were exposed to fragrances. A lemon scent caused the subjects to dial in a lighter body weight. A vanilla odor had the opposite effect.</p><p>SCHI lab head <a href="http://www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/328262" target="_blank">Marianna Obrist</a> tells <a href="http://www.sussex.ac.uk/broadcast/read/49415" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Sussex</a>, "Previous research has shown that lemon is associated with thin silhouettes, spiky shapes and high-pitched sounds while vanilla is associated with thick silhouettes, rounded shapes and low-pitched sounds. This could help account for the different body image perceptions when exposed to a range of nasal stimuli."</p><p>Regarding the second experiment, UC3M's <a href="https://uclic.ucl.ac.uk/people/ana-tajadura-jimenez" target="_blank">Ana Tajadura-Jiménez</a> says, "Our previous research has shown how sound can be used to alter body perception. For instance, in a series of studies, we showed how changing the pitch of the footstep sounds people produce when walking can make them feel lighter and happier and also change the way their walk."</p><p>The current study's authors had headphone-wearing participants walk in place on a wooden board as the researchers manipulated the sound of of their footsteps in the headphones, making them higher in pitch or lower. While walking, they were presented with lemon and vanilla scents. The psychological effect of the fragrance became even more pronounced when combined with the sound manipulations.</p><p>"We based our study on the concept of crossmodal correspondences," Brianza tells <a href="https://www.inverse.com/mind-body/sense-of-smell-body-image-study" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Inverse</a>, "which is the spontaneous and unconscious association between different sensory stimulations [like when people see colors when they listen to music]."</p><p>Says Obrist, "One of the interesting findings from the research is that sound appears to have a stronger effect on unconscious behavior whilst scent has a stronger effect on conscious behavior. Further studies need to be carried out in order to better understand the potential around sensory and multisensory stimuli on BIP [body image perception]."</p><span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b41cfbc7383cdedd0348b1ebd83212a4"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KCno-EtCFOw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
What the heck is going on<p>Brianza says, "Our brain holds several mental models of one's own body appearance which are necessary for successful interactions with the environment." She adds, "These body perceptions are continuously updated in response to sensory inputs received from outside and inside the body."</p><p>Considering that what we know of the world—and to an extent, of ourselves—is based on sensory stimuli, perhaps it should not be completely surprising that we may draw unexpected cues from them.</p><p>In any event, the researchers' findings offer tantalizing early clues that may bear therapeutic fruit when it comes to addressing body issues later on. Will it turn out, for example, that scented garments can help us make kinder, more accurate fitting decisions in olfactorily and sonically optimized dressing rooms?</p><p>Says Brianza, "Being able to positively influence this perception through technology could lead to novel and more effective therapies for people with body perception disorders or the development of interactive clothes and wearable technology that could use scent to enhance people's self-confidence and recalibrate distorted feelings of body weight."</p>
These tiny fish are helping scientists understand how the human brain processes sound.
- Fragile X syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by changes in a gene that scientists call the "fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1)" gene. People who have FXS or autism often struggle with sensitivity to sound.
- According to the research team, FXS is caused by the disruption of a gene. By disrupting that same gene in zebrafish larvae, they can examine the effects and begin to understand more about this disrupted gene in the human brain.
- Using the zebrafish, Dr. Constantin and the team were able to gather insights into which parts of the brain are used to process sensory information.
By disrupting a specific gene in Zebrafish, we're able to better understand the same disruption of that gene in humans with FXS or autism.
Credit: slowmotiongli on Adobe Stock<p>"Loud noises often cause sensory overload and anxiety in people with autism and Fragile X syndrome -- sensitivity to sound is common to both conditions," <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201110102527.htm" target="_blank">Dr. Constantin explained to Science Daily</a>.</p><p><strong>How do zebrafish relate to humans with autism? </strong></p><p>According to the research team, FXS is caused by the disruption of a gene. By disrupting that same gene in zebrafish larvae, they can examine the effects and begin to understand more about this disrupted gene in the human brain. </p><p>The thalamus, according to Dr. Constantin, works as a control center, relaying sensory information from around the body to different parts of the brain. The hindbrain then coordinates different behavioral responses. Using the different sound tests, the team was able to study the whole brain of the zebrafish larvae under microscopes and see the activity of each brain cell individually. </p><p>According to Dr. Constantin, the research team recorded the brain activity of zebrafish larvae while showing them movies or exposing them to bursts of sound. The movies stimulated movement, a reaction to the visual stimuli that was the same for fish with the Fragile X mutation and those without. However, when the fish were given a burst of white noise, there was a dramatic difference in the brain activity of the fish with the Fragile X mutation.<br></p><p>After seeing how the noise radically affected the fish brain, the team designed a range of 12 different volumes of sound and found the Fragile X model fish could hear much quieter volumes than the control fish. </p><p>"The fish with Fragile X mutations had more connections between different regions of their brain and their responses to the sounds were more plentiful in the hindbrain and thalamus," <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201110102527.htm" target="_blank">said Dr. Constantin</a>.</p><p>Essentially, the fish with Fragile X mutation had more connections between the regions of their brain and so their responses to the sounds were more notable. </p><p><strong>Understanding how this gene disruption works in zebrafish will give us a better understanding of sound hypersensitivity in humans with FXS or autism.</strong> </p><p>"How our neural pathways develop and respond to the stimulation of our senses gives us insights into which parts of the brain are used and how sensory information is processed," Dr. Constantin said.</p><p>Using the zebrafish, Dr. Constantin and the team were able to gather insights into which parts of the brain are used to process sensory information. </p><p>"We hope that by discovering fundamental information about how the brain processes sound, we will gain further insights into the sensory challenges faced by people with Fragile X syndrome and autism."</p>
A study from McGill University reveals the secret of musicians who have excellent time.
- When a person locks onto a beat, it's because their brain rhythms have become aligned with it.
- Listening and physically performing are brain functions not directly related to rhythm synchronization.
- The study tracked EEG brain activity during listening, playing along, and recreating rhythms.
Listening and tapping<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzYyNDIzNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MzU4NjIzOH0.vK-N6A-goMccmBsL5xOyrzmWoxsiOHDKV-J9YPfHj7Y/img.jpg?width=980" id="48cf6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1adaf404031fa0036848a1ba4193c1fd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="TR-808 rhythm composer" data-width="1440" data-height="1080" />
A beat machine that produces notes similar to those used by the researchers
Credit: Steve Harvey/Unsplash<p>Palmer and her colleagues worked with 29 adult musicians — 21 female and 6 males, aged 18 to 30 years old — each of whom was proficient with an instrument, having studied for a minimum of six years. With electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes affixed to their scalps, the participants listened to and tapped along with different versions of three basic rhythms as the scientists captured their brain activity.</p><p>Each rhythm was preceded by a four-beat count off. </p><ul><li><a href="https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/files/newsroom/simple1-1.mp3" target="_blank">Rhythm 1:1</a> — repeatedly played a simple series of evenly spaced clicks.</li><li><a href="https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/files/newsroom/moderate1-2.mp3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Rhythm 1:2</a> — repeatedly played a two-beat phrase with a higher-pitched sound for the first beat of each phrase and a lower-pitched sound for the second.</li><li><a href="https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/files/newsroom/complex3-2.mp3" target="_blank">Rhythm 3:2</a> — repeatedly played the most complex rhythm of the three, a series of triplets. In this case, the lower-pitched sound played the quarter notes while a higher-pitched sound played the triplet notes.</li></ul><p>(Tap or click each rhythm's name above to listen to its complete version with no beats or sounds omitted.)</p><p>The participants were assigned Listen, Synchronize, and Motor tasks. In the:</p><ul><li>Listen task — participants were played a dozen modified versions of the rhythms and asked to report any missing beats they noticed.</li><li>Synchronize task — individuals played along with a dozen versions of the rhythms, in some cases supplying sounds researchers had removed from the patterns.</li><li>Motor task — participants were asked to reproduce a dozen rhythm variations after hearing each one.</li></ul>
Beat markers<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzYyNDQyNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDA5NDU4OX0.GKl27Ed_kuwLg0r_eh_s6yUoes8RN_QS2fMHLBx0vBI/img.jpg?width=980" id="b927a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b73b2bdc7bb4f9b3c4499fab78b7c5f6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="chart with wave lines" data-width="1440" data-height="810" />
Credit: Chaikom/Shutterstock<p>The scientists were able to identify neural markers representing each musician's beat perception, revealing the degree of synchronicity between the researchers' rhythms and the brain's own rhythms. Surprisingly, this synchronicity turned out to be unrelated to brain activity associated with either listening or playing.</p><p>Said the study's first authors, PhD students Brian Mathias and Anna Zamm, "We were surprised that even highly trained musicians sometimes showed reduced ability to synchronize with complex rhythms, and that this was reflected in their EEGs."</p><p>While the musician participants were all reasonably competent at tapping along to the rhythms, the degree to which the markers aligned to the beats was what separated the good players from the best. "Most musicians are good synchronizers," say Mathias and Zamm. "Nonetheless, this signal was sensitive enough to distinguish the 'good' from the 'better' or 'super-synchronizers,' as we sometimes call them."</p><p>When Palmer is asked whether a person can develop the ability to become a super-synchronizer, she answers: "The range of musicians we sampled suggests that the answer would be 'yes.' And the fact that only 2-3% of the population are 'beat deaf' is also encouraging. Practice definitely improves your ability and improves the alignment of the brain rhythms with the musical rhythms. But whether everyone is going to be as good as a drummer is not clear."</p>
A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.
- There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
- A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
- Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.
First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)
Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.
All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.
Image source: European Space Agency
The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.
Into and out of Earth's shadow
In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.
The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."
In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."
When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.
The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.
BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.
MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.
Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.