Background and Hypotheses

Auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH) are central features of schizophrenia (SZ). However, AVH also occur in a small percentage of the general population who do not have a need for care, termed nonclinical voice hearers (NCVH). We sought to determine the degree to which the experience of AVH was similar in NCVH and in people with schizophrenia (PSZ) and evaluate the degree to which NCVH shared other features of SZ such as delusional beliefs, cognitive impairment, and negative symptoms.

Study Design

We recruited 76 people with a DSM-V diagnosis of SZ/schizoaffective disorder (PSZ; 49 with current AVH, 27 without), 48 NCVH, and 51 healthy controls. Participants received a broad battery of clinician-administered and self-report symptom assessments and a focused cognitive assessment.

Study Results

The AVH of NCVH and PSZ shared very similar sensory features. NCVH experienced less distress, had greater control over their AVH, and, unlike PSZ, rarely heard 2 voices speaking to each other. NCVH demonstrated a wide range of deeply held unusual beliefs, but reported less paranoia, and fewer first-rank symptoms such as passivity and alterations in self-experience. NCVH showed no evidence of cognitive deficits or negative symptoms.


The AVH in NCVH and PSZ demonstrate important similarities as well as clear differences. Specific features, rather than the presence, of AVH appear to determine the need for care. NCVH do not share the cognitive and motivational deficits seen in PSZ. These results suggest that AVH and unusual beliefs can be separated from the broader phenotype of SZ.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact [email protected]