Pavlovian conditioning-induced hallucinations result from overweighting of perceptual priors

Science. 2017 Aug 11;357(6351):596-600. doi: 10.1126/science.aan3458.


Some people hear voices that others do not, but only some of those people seek treatment. Using a Pavlovian learning task, we induced conditioned hallucinations in four groups of people who differed orthogonally in their voice-hearing and treatment-seeking statuses. People who hear voices were significantly more susceptible to the effect. Using functional neuroimaging and computational modeling of perception, we identified processes that differentiated voice-hearers from non-voice-hearers and treatment-seekers from non-treatment-seekers and characterized a brain circuit that mediated the conditioned hallucinations. These data demonstrate the profound and sometimes pathological impact of top-down cognitive processes on perception and may represent an objective means to discern people with a need for treatment from those without.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Conditioning, Classical*
  • Female
  • Hallucinations / physiopathology
  • Hallucinations / psychology*
  • Hearing
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological
  • Nerve Net
  • Neuroimaging
  • Perception*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychotic Disorders / physiopathology
  • Psychotic Disorders / psychology
  • Voice