Dr Peter Moseley of Durham University talks about a project that SNU members have been participating in...

Hearing The Voice logo from Durham UniversityHearing the Voice is a research project at Durham University that aims to understand the experience of hearing a voice that others cannot hear. Although the experience is often associated with mental illness by the general public, it is increasingly clear that many people with no psychiatric diagnosis at all hear voices, with one example of this being clairaudient experiences associated with spiritualism. However, researchers know very little about what these experiences are like for people – spiritual voices have been almost completely ignored in the scientific literature, for example.

Our research project includes academics and scientists from disciplines including psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, theology, and literary studies. Ultimately, as a team we’re interested in learning more about different experiences of voice hearing in all walks of life. Our starting point is to ask what the experiences are like for people – this is something we refer to as the study of phenomenology. For example, as scientists, we don’t really know what kind of communications people receive via clairaudience, who they’re likely to be from, what effect this has on the individual receiving the messages, or how they’re likely to be interpreted by that individual.

We’re also interested in the psychology underlying experiences of clairaudience; that is, what kind of mechanisms in the mind and brain might underlie clairaudience? This is a completely new area of study, but we think it’s really important to understand the psychological capacities that are associated with clairaudience. Knowing more about this would help us understand what allows some people to hear spirit voices, while others can’t.

For example, lots of people I have spoken to (though not all) have told me that communicating with spirits is a skill that anyone can learn with the right training; but, equally, there seems to be some consensus that some people are naturally better at it than others. Although we might not be able to answer the question of why some people can communicate with spirits and other can’t, we will hopefully be able to provide some information about the psychological abilities that underlies the experiences.

Finally, we’re also interested in what’s going on in the brain during the experience of hearing a voice. It might be that parts of the brain involved in the processing of sound are involved – or it might be that areas of the brain involved in processing social interactions with other people are more important. More likely is that something more complicated is going on – for example, rather than just one brain area being involved, the complex interactions between different brain regions may be associated with hearing spirit voices.

At Hearing the Voice, we are currently running studies into each of the above topics. That is, we’re interested in learning more about what clairaudient experiences are like for people, what psychological capacities underlie clairaudience, and what is going on in the brain during these experiences. I should make clear that we’re not under any illusions about what we can and can’t do! For example, we know that we won’t be able to ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ the reality or nonreality of the spirit world – nor are we trying to. But, we do think that it’s important to learn more about this, and the first step in doing this is talking to people who have the experience.

As such, we’re looking for people to take part in our research; in fact, we’re running three different studies. One study consists of an interview about experiences of clairaudience/hearing spirit voices. The second study involves completing some simple psychological tasks. The third study involves getting your brain scanned. If you would potentially be interested in taking part in any or all of these studies, please feel free to get in touch with me by email or telephone for more information (see details below). If you choose to participate, you can visit us at Durham University (and we’ll pay for your travel and accommodation, if needed), or if you’d prefer, we can visit you at your home or at a neutral location.


Interested in taking part? Contact me on either of the below:

E-mail: [email protected]

Telephone: 0191 334 8166.