On 16th March 2015, Lisa Bortolotti chaired a session entitled “Sight, Sound, and Mental Health” as part of the Arts and Science Festival at the University of Birmingham. The session was sponsored by project PERFECT.
Sam Wilkinson (Philosophy, Durham) talked about the difficulties in defining verbal hallucinations, as some have an auditory quality to them, but others appear to be more like thoughts. The wide variety of verbal hallucinations makes it harder to arrive at a unifying theory of what causes them. Drawing from his work with the Hearing the Voice project, Sam illustrated with examples and case studies how hallucinations can play a significant role in either hindering or supporting the wellbeing of voice hearers.
Amy Hardy (Psychology, King’s College London) explained the importance of imagery in everyday life and mental health. She showed how different the contributions of imagery can be, from supporting the constructions of memories to planning future actions. Imagery can help people improve their performance (as a form of 'mental' rehearsal elite sportspeople use before competing) but can also be distressing when it is influenced by previous experience of abuse or victimisation.
Ema Sullivan-Bissett (Philosophy, Birmingham) asked why some people seem to genuinely believe that they were kidnapped by aliens. The beginning of an explanation lies in the strange experiences they might have, including awareness during sleep paralysis and hypnopompic hallucinations. But not everybody who has those experiences also endorses alien abduction beliefs. Ema suggested that certain background beliefs (e.g. 'new age' beliefs) may be playing a role in disposing some people to believe that they have been abducted by aliens. The lectures were followed by a lively Q&A session with the audience.