The omnipotence of voices: testing the validity of a cognitive model

M Birchwood, P Chadwick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

244 Citations (SciVal)


BACKGROUND: A preliminary report by the authors suggested that the range of affect generated by voices (anger, fear, elation) was linked not to the form, content or topography of voice activity, but to the beliefs patients held about them, in particular their supposed power and authority. We argued that this conformed to a cognitive model; that is, voice beliefs represent an attempt to understand the experience of voices, and cannot be understood by reference to the form/content of voices alone. This study puts this cognitive model to empirical test.

METHODS: Sixty-two voice hearers conforming to ICD-10 schizophrenia or schizoaffective diagnoses were interviewed and completed standardized measures of voice activity; beliefs about voices and supporting evidence, coping behaviour; affect and depression.

RESULTS: Beliefs about the power and meaning of voices showed a close relationship with coping behaviour and affect (malevolent voices were associated with fear and anger and were resisted; benevolent voices were associated with positive effect and were engaged) and accounted for the high rate of depression in the sample (53%). Measures of voice form and topography did not show any link with behaviour or affect and in only one-quarter of cases did neutral observers rate voice beliefs as 'following directly' from voice content.

CONCLUSION: The study found support for our cognitive model and therapeutic approach. Factors governing the genesis of these key beliefs remain unknown. A number of hypotheses are discussed, which centre around the possibility that voice beliefs develop as part of an adaptive process to the experience of voices, and are underpinned by core beliefs about the individuals self-worth and interpersonal schemata.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1345-53
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1997


  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Auditory Perception
  • Cognition
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Hallucinations/diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychotic Disorders/diagnosis
  • Schizophrenia/diagnosis
  • Schizophrenic Psychology
  • Self Concept
  • Voice


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