The prevalence of visual hallucinations in non-affective psychosis, and the role of perception and attention

Psychol Med. 2016 Jun;46(8):1735-47. doi: 10.1017/S0033291716000246. Epub 2016 Mar 17.


Background: Little is known about visual hallucinations (VH) in psychosis. We investigated the prevalence and the role of bottom-up and top-down processing in VH. The prevailing view is that VH are probably related to altered top-down processing, rather than to distorted bottom-up processing. Conversely, VH in Parkinson's disease are associated with impaired visual perception and attention, as proposed by the Perception and Attention Deficit (PAD) model. Auditory hallucinations (AH) in psychosis, however, are thought to be related to increased attention.

Method: Our retrospective database study included 1119 patients with non-affective psychosis and 586 controls. The Community Assessment of Psychic Experiences established the VH rate. Scores on visual perception tests [Degraded Facial Affect Recognition (DFAR), Benton Facial Recognition Task] and attention tests [Response Set-shifting Task, Continuous Performance Test-HQ (CPT-HQ)] were compared between 75 VH patients, 706 non-VH patients and 485 non-VH controls.

Results: The lifetime VH rate was 37%. The patient groups performed similarly on cognitive tasks; both groups showed worse perception (DFAR) than controls. Non-VH patients showed worse attention (CPT-HQ) than controls, whereas VH patients did not perform differently.

Conclusions: We did not find significant VH-related impairments in bottom-up processing or direct top-down alterations. However, the results suggest a relatively spared attentional performance in VH patients, whereas face perception and processing speed were equally impaired in both patient groups relative to controls. This would match better with the increased attention hypothesis than with the PAD model. Our finding that VH frequently co-occur with AH may support an increased attention-induced 'hallucination proneness'.

Keywords: Cognition; PAD model; prevalence; psychotic disorders; visual hallucinations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Databases, Factual
  • Facial Recognition
  • Female
  • Hallucinations / epidemiology*
  • Hallucinations / physiopathology
  • Hallucinations / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prevalence
  • Psychotic Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Psychotic Disorders / psychology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult