Pioneering Study Constructs The First Body-Map For Hallucination Sensations

About 1 in 30 people will experience at most one episode of psychosis in their lifetime. Although most discussions about hallucinations are focused on the visual and auditory, psychosis sufferers know that this view can be limited.
Researchers have now turned their attention towards the rich array of experiences that accompany hallucinatory episodes. They have created a body-map that depicts the types of emotion, awareness and tactile sensation that can often complicate a variety of neurological disorders.

Psychologists at the University of Leicester in the UK recruited twelve volunteers from the Early Intervention in Psychosis Teams of the National Health Service and asked them to record the hallucinations they experienced for one week.

Participants could keep a log of all emotions, sensations and cognitive states that were associated with psychosis symptoms.

The volunteers met with one researcher for a face-to-face interview lasting half an hour. They reviewed the diary and discussed its records.

The end result was a map that described hallucinations as events that can affect any part of the body.

Katie Melvin, study lead author says that "the range of feelings within and around the body (into the peri-personal space were especially interesting") was particularly fascinating."

"Participants frequently described how the method helped them to share experiences that were hard to put into words."

Hallucinations are a sign of mental illness. However, they are a common experience that many people have. It's not always possible to hear a voice or see things in the corner of your eye.

Living with schizophrenia, advanced Alzheimer's or psychotic depression can make it exhausting and confusing for those who are trying to understand the reality.

Personal experiences can also have a significant impact on sleep quality, motivation, ability to interact with others, or the ability to hold down a job.

Although hallucinations are not always the same, it is clear that they can vary in severity. However, no one has yet attempted to quantify the variety of emotions that may result.

Although it is a small sample, we can use the information to ask the question about how common MUSE (multimodal unusual sensory experience) might be.

MUSE maps are used to document hallucinations and body-mapping. Melvin says that the article provides new insights via body-maps, data and information on the immediate experience of hallucinations.

For example, volume can differ significantly among those who hear voices. For example, up to a third of participants heard them as whispers. Around 25% heard them as shouts and screams.

A majority of those surveyed experienced a churning stomach or butterflies before or during hearing voices. Some people also reported more severe sensations like being held down, nausea, and even physical pain. There were also reports of tingling sensations in one's limbs and the body feeling on fire.

One participant reported that there was "something on my tongue." Another participant described a feeling of "something in my vagina".

There were altered states of cognition, which are not just sensations. It could be a sense of extreme boredom. It could also be a hyper-aroused state of alertness or excessive thinking.

Nearly all participants reported feeling that they inferred some reality, such as being watched, feeling disconnected or the overwhelming nature the whole experience.

It's obvious that if we focus on hallucinations only as something that can be seen or heard, then we miss the bigger picture. This sample only shows that 83 percent of participants felt a wide range of emotions, sensations and feelings during their psychosis.

These maps can help us understand how the population is represented. This could lead to better therapies to help people cope with the unique challenges of our individual experiences.

Melvin says, "The next steps in this area of research will involve further understanding the embodiment of hallucinations and creating interventions to support them."

This research was published by EClinicalMedicine.