Hallucinations: A systematic review of points of similarity and difference across diagnostic classes

Flavie Waters, Charles Fernyhough

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    153 Citations (Scopus)


    Hallucinations constitute one of the 5 symptom domains of psychotic disorders in DSM-5, suggesting diagnostic significance for that group of disorders. Although specific featural properties of hallucinations (negative voices, talking in the third person, and location in external space) are no longer highlighted in DSM, there is likely a residual assumption that hallucinations in schizophrenia can be identified based on these candidate features. We investigated whether certain featural properties of hallucinations are specifically indicative of schizophrenia by conducting a systematic review of studies showing direct comparisons of the featural and clinical characteristics of (auditory and visual) hallucinations among 2 or more population groups (one of which included schizophrenia). A total of 43 articles were reviewed, which included hallucinations in 4 major groups (nonclinical groups, drug- and alcohol-related conditions, medical and neurological conditions, and psychiatric disorders). The results showed that no single hallucination feature or characteristic uniquely indicated a diagnosis of schizophrenia, with the sole exception of an age of onset in late adolescence. Among the 21 features of hallucinations in schizophrenia considered here, 95% were shared with other psychiatric disorders, 85% with medical/neurological conditions, 66% with drugs and alcohol conditions, and 52% with the nonclinical groups. Additional differences rendered the nonclinical groups somewhat distinctive from clinical disorders. Overall, when considering hallucinations, it is inadvisable to give weight to the presence of any featural properties alone in making a schizophrenia diagnosis. It is more important to focus instead on the co-occurrence of other symptoms and the value of hallucinations as an indicator of vulnerability.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)32-43
    Number of pages12
    JournalSchizophrenia Bulletin
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017


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