© 2024 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
89.9 FM is currently running on reduced power. 89.9 HD1 and HD2 are off the air. While we work to fix the issue, we recommend downloading the WSHU app.

Yale Team Studies Psychics To Learn About Schizophrenia

David Duprey
A young man from Rochester, N.Y., who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

One of the major symptoms of schizophrenia is hearing voices – but people who believe they’re psychic also hear voices. A team of Yale psychologists thinks there’s a connection. Their new study takes an unorthodox approach to understanding mental illness.

Auditory hallucinations can be torment for people with schizophrenia. Yale psychologist Phil Corlett wanted to find people who hear voices, but don’t suffer the same torment – and maybe even lead happy lives.

“On my bus ride I look out the window and I notice there’s quite a few psychic stalls, tarot readers, that sort of thing. So we start to think, where are these messages coming from?”

So Corlett and his research partner Al Powers went to a psychic convention and asked for volunteers. Powers says the psychics loved the idea.

“That could be related to the fact that for so long they’ve been told their experiences aren’t real, and this would in some way be a validation.”

Corlett and Powers say this study is not about judging whether or not psychics are actually psychic. But based on brain scans, at least some of the people they tested do appear to hear voices.

“Either they’re faking it really, really well, or they do have experiences that are similar.”

There are some important differences though. For one, psychics say their voices tend to be helpful and positive, not scary or threatening.

“Self-identified clairaudient psychics endorse an ability to control their voices – both make them happen and make them not happen.”

And the psychics they spoke to said they had a built-in community of people who accepted them and supported them. Corlett says having a community can make a huge difference in the lives of people with schizophrenia.

“Rather than getting rid of the voices entirely, people try to cope with them and work around them. Our suspicion is that by studying the psychics, we can understand how that comes about.”

And with that understanding, Corlett and Powers say people with schizophrenia might also be able to learn to manage their voices and lead a happy life.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.