Hearing Voices in Different Cultures: A Social Kindling Hypothesis

Topics in Cognitive Science 7 (4):646-663 (2015)
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This study compares 20 subjects, in each of three different settings, with serious psychotic disorder who hear voices, and compares their voice-hearing experience. We find that while there is much that is similar, there are notable differences in the kinds of voices that people seem to experience. In a California sample, people were more likely to describe their voices as intrusive unreal thoughts; in the South Indian sample, they were more likely to describe them as providing useful guidance; and in our West African sample, they were more likely to describe them as morally good and causally powerful. What we think we may be observing is that people who fall ill with serious psychotic disorder pay selective attention to a constant stream of many different auditory and quasi-auditory events because of different “cultural invitations”—variations in ways of thinking about minds, persons, spirits and so forth. Such a process is consistent with processes described in the cognitive psychology and psychiatric anthropology literature, but not yet described or understood with respect to cultural variations in auditory hallucinations. We call this process “social kindling.”



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Tanya Luhrmann
Stanford University

Citations of this work

Culture and Cognitive Science.Andreas De Block & Daniel Kelly - 2022 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Culture and Cognitive Science.Jesse Prinz - forthcoming - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Diversity as Asset.Andrea Bender, Sieghard Beller & Nancy J. Nersessian - 2015 - Topics in Cognitive Science 7 (4):677-688.

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