Robot tricks brain, unraveling mystery why people hear ‘their dead’: Findings from University of Geneva

Scientists have no idea what happens in the brain when people hear these “auditory hallucinations.”

Five to ten percent of people, including those in good health, report hearing voices associated with their deceased loved ones, according to research. The brain processes behind these “auditory hallucinations” are unknown to scientists.

Now, neuroscientist Pavo Orepic from the University of Geneva is claiming to have designed a robotic theory that can solve the scientific puzzle.

Most people think that not only those with psychiatric illnesses encounter these hallucinations. Nonetheless, studies show that 70% of individuals with a diagnosis of schizophrenia typically experience these kinds of voices.


Schizophrenics are not suitable subjects for hallucination research because they take pharmaceuticals and medications that may have adverse effects that might skew the results.

Why do these delusions come on?

When a person’s sensory perceptions conflict with what their brain expects, they experience hallucinations.

According to some research, hallucinations may also happen when the brain misinterprets sensory inputs due to conditioning from prior experiences.


Novel Robotic Methodology

Orepic has now created an experiment that might activate the two aforementioned systems at the same time.

Some participants in the experiment were instructed to press a lever in front of them while wearing blindfolds. A robotic arm touched them on the back while they were moving.

After considerable repetition, their brain began to recognize that the hand stroking their back was indeed their own.

A minor modification was made to the experiment after some practice.

Now, after a little pause, the robotic arm contacted the participants as soon as they touched the lever.

Because of this, the brain assumed that someone else was there. Orepic stated that the brain now interprets the delayed sensory data as coming from someone else touching them behind their back.

Subsequently, in an additional phase of the experiment, the individuals were exposed to sounds into which they had blended either extremely quiet voices (either their own, occasionally that of someone else), or no voice at all.

It was surprising to learn that even in cases where voices had not been blended in, those who had participated in the “delayed touch experiment” were more likely to sense voices in the background noise.

According to Orepic, “our research demonstrates that the brain mechanisms underlying hallucinations are present in everyone.”

“However, some people are more vulnerable to them than others for an unknown reason,” he continues.

Auditory hallucinations are perceptual experiences in which individuals hear sounds or voices that are not present in the external environment. These hallucinations can manifest as voices, music, or other sounds and are perceived as real by the person experiencing them. Auditory hallucinations are commonly associated with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and psychotic disorders.

In the context of mental health, auditory hallucinations are considered a symptom rather than a disorder themselves. They can vary in intensity, frequency, and content, ranging from neutral or benign sounds to distressing and commanding voices. The exact cause of auditory hallucinations is complex and often involves a combination of genetic, neurological, and environmental factors.

It’s crucial for individuals experiencing auditory hallucinations to seek professional help for a comprehensive assessment and appropriate management, as these symptoms can significantly impact a person’s well-being and daily functioning.

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