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Int J Law Psychiatry. 2014 Mar-Apr;37(2):183-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2013.11.004. Epub 2013 Nov 21.

Listening to voices: the use of phenomenology to differentiate malingered from genuine auditory verbal hallucinations.

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ARC Centre for Cognition and its Disorders, Department of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Electronic address:
School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, USA.


The experience of hearing a voice in the absence of an appropriate external stimulus, formally termed an auditory verbal hallucination (AVH), may be malingered for reasons such as personal financial gain, or, in criminal cases, to attempt a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. An accurate knowledge of the phenomenology of AVHs is central to assessing the veracity of claims to such experiences. We begin by demonstrating that some contemporary criminal cases still employ inaccurate conceptions of the phenomenology of AVHs to assess defendants' claims. The phenomenology of genuine, malingered, and atypical AVHs is then examined. We argue that, due to the heterogeneity of AVHs, the use of typical properties of AVHs as a yardstick against which to evaluate the veracity of a defendant's claims is likely to be less effective than the accumulation of instances of defendants endorsing statements of atypical features of AVHs. We identify steps towards the development of a formal tool for this purpose, and examine other conceptual issues pertinent to criminal cases arising from the phenomenology of AVHs.


Hearing voices; Insanity defense; Malingering; Psychosis; Sanity; Schizophrenia

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