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Why Schizophrenics Hear Voices

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Schizophrenia is a frightening disease, characterized by audio and visual hallucinations.

A researcher at Duke University thinks he may have a clue as to how the auditory hallucinations occur.

Duke neurobiologist Richard Mooney said there is a long history of research that indicates that the way we hear is influenced by what we see happening around us.

"That happens during speech, during musical performance, when we can anticipate a noise that we might make, or maybe somebody else might make," he said on The State of Things.

The new research indicates that a breakdown in the neural pathways that establish this interaction may cause auditory hallucinations in people with schizophrenia.

"Auditory hallucinations are a common symptom in people who have schizophrenia," said John Gilmore, vice chair for research and scientific affairs in the department of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Though they aren't unique to those with mental illness, Gilmore said.

"I think everybody's heard a voice every once in a while," he said.

But the hallucinations in schizophrenia can be persistent and disturbing, requiring medical intervention. Fortunately, there are already established treatments for schizophrenia, Gilmore says.

"The mainstay of treatment are anti-psychotic medications...they tend to be reasonably effective at treating the positive symptoms," Gilmore said.

But they're not perfect.

"The antipsychotics that we use also affect all different kinds of receptors and all different parts of the brain," he said.

Gilmore said that Mooney's research could have powerful implications for the treatment of schizophrenia.

Audio for this segment will be up by 4 p.m.

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