A woman reads a book in the sunshine in Victoria Tower Gardens on September 2, 2011 in London, England.
A woman reads a book in the sunshine in Victoria Tower Gardens on September 2, 2011 in London, England.

Most people 'hear voices' when they read, psychological study finds

More than 80 per cent of people surveyed said they hear an 'inner reading voice', whether it sounds like their own or other people

Lizzie Dearden
Tuesday 23 February 2016 09:59

Do you hear a voice as you read this? Whether you do or not, the likelihood is you have considered your experience normal, but research has revealed a wide range of perceptions.

Professor Ruvanee Vilhauer, from New York University’s Department of Psychology, analysed links between people’s “inner reading voice” and auditory hallucinations.

Despite the taboo around “hearing voices”, more than 80 per cent of the people questioned said they heard an inner voice while reading to themselves and only 11 per cent said they did not.

Several respondents said they only heard it sometimes, depending on other factors including their interest in the text, and some perceived their own voice while others detected a range of characters, friends and family members, in emails for example.

Prof Vilhauer analysed 160 answers from an online survey to examine people’s experiences for a study published in the Psychosis journal.

“Results indicated that many individuals report routinely experiencing inner reading voices (IRVs), which often have the auditory qualities of overt speech, such as recognisable identity, gender, pitch, loudness and emotional tone,” she wrote.

“IRVs were sometimes identified as the readers’ own voices, and sometimes as the voices of other people.

“Some individuals reported that IRVs were continuous with audible thoughts. Both controllable and uncontrollable IRVs were reported.”

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Reading voices are hypothesised to the basis for auditory verbal hallucinations and may be linked to people’s “imagery vividness” and voice hearing in those not reporting mental health issues.

Prof Vilhauer said her study was one of the first to investigate the phenomenon, suggesting the psychologists may have failed to question it so far because of individuals’ assumptions that their experience is normal, the BPS Research Digest reported.

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