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Neural activity precedes conscious awareness of being in or out of a transient hallucinatory state

By Kenneth Hugdahl, Alexander R. Craven, Erik Johnsen, Lars Ersland, Drozdstoy Stoyanov, Sevdalina Kandilarova, Lydia Brunvoll Sandøy, Rune A. Kroken, Else-Marie Løberg, Iris E Sommer

Posted 18 Mar 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.03.17.995282

Auditory verbal hallucinations, or "hearing voices", is a remarkable state of the mind, occurring in psychiatric and neurological patients, and in a significant minority of the general population. An unexplained characteristic of this phenomenon is that it transiently fluctuates, with coming and going of episodes with time. We monitored neural activity with BOLD-fMRI second-by-second before and after participants indicated the start and end of a transient hallucinatory episode during the scanning session by pressing a response-button. We show that a region in the ventro-medial frontal cortex is activated in advance of conscious awareness of going in or out of a transient hallucinatory state. There was an increase in activity initiated a few seconds before the button-press for onsets, and a corresponding decrease in activity initiated a few seconds before the button-press for offsets. We identified the time between onset and offset button-presses, extracted the corresponding BOLD time-courses from nominated regions-of-interest, and analyzed changes in the signal from 10 seconds before to 15 seconds after the response-button was pressed, which identified onset and offset events. We suggest that this brain region act as a switch to turn on and off a hallucinatory episode. The results may have implications for new interventions for intractable hallucinations.

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