Sight, sound, and mental health

Arts-and-ScienceA public engagement event as part of the Arts and Science Festival 2015

When and where

Monday 16 March 2015, 12:00-2:00pm, Arts Building room 201, University of Birmingham


We are surrounded by images and sounds, and these usually are reliable as a guide to the world. But on some occasions we hear voices when nobody is around, and see things that are not there.

Lisa Bortolotti, philosopher of psychology and psychiatry at Birmingham, chaired a lunchtime session on visual and auditory experiences and their impact on mental health. Speakers included Sam Wilkinson, Amy Hardy, and Ema Sullivan-Bissett.

Sam Wilkinson (Philosophy, Durham) delivered a talk entitled "The Varieties of Verbal Hallucinations", and examined the wide variety of contexts (clinical and nonclinical) and characteristics of verbal hallucinations, ending with tentative suggestions for useful subtypes. Video clip of the lecture.

Abstract: Auditory verbal hallucinations (AVHs) are typically seen as a primary symptom of schizophrenia. Although they do occur in the context of schizophrenia diagnoses, they also occur in a wide variety of other clinical contexts. They also occur in cases where the subject is not in need of clinical attention. I present how the phenomenon of AVH varies - and suggest why it varies in the way that it does - across these clinical and non-clinical contexts.

Amy Hardy (Psychology, King’s College London) talked about the role of imagery in wellbeing and distress, and her talk was entitled: “Everything we can imagine is real: The role of imagery in daily life.” Video clip of the lecture.

Abstract: Imagery refers to our ability to see with our mind's eye and hear with our mind's ear.  It can also reflect our other senses - tastes, smells and physical sensations. Increasingly, science recognises the importance of imagery for our wellbeing and how it can help and hinder us in our daily lives. This talk will highlight how imagery has been understood historically and across cultures, and explain how it enables us to make sense of our past experiences, our current situation and plan for our future. We will consider how talking therapies use imagery to help people understand and overcome difficulties, with case studies illustrating how the creation of positive images can support recovery.

Ema Sullivan-Bissett (Philosophy, Birmingham), who is currently researching beliefs in alien abduction as part of project PERFECT, talked about hallucinations in this context. Her talk was entitled: “A Strange Encounter: Explaining Alien Abduction Belief.” Video clip of the lecture.

Abstract: A surprising number of people believe that they have been abducted by aliens. I outline the strange experiences they have which might explain their belief. However, this cannot be a full explanation because these strange experiences do not give rise to alien abduction belief in all people. It looks like certain background psychologies may be playing a role in disposing some people to believe that they have been abducted when they have a strange experience. I finish by considering what these background psychologies might look like.

After the three brief talks, the audience had an opportunity to ask questions, and discuss with the speakers and organisers formally and informally. Light refreshments were provided.

Sight, sound, and mental health