Social Deafferentation and the Relation Between Loneliness and Hallucinations

Sanne G. Brederoo*, Janna N. de Boer, Mascha M.J. Linszen, Renske E. Blom, Marieke J.H. Begemann, Iris E.C. Sommer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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BACKGROUND AND HYPOTHESIS: The social deafferentation hypothesis (SDA) has been proposed as an explanatory mechanism of hallucinations, based on the theory that social withdrawal triggers the initial phase of schizophrenia. The current study tests the SDA by assessing how loneliness is associated with different types of hallucinations. Under the SDA, increased loneliness is hypothesized to affect the occurrence of hallucinations that carry social meaning, but not of nonsocial hallucinations. STUDY DESIGN: As part of an online survey, 2038 adolescents and young adults from the general population (median age 21 years; 75% female) filled out the Questionnaire for Psychotic Experiences, and the shortened De Jong Gierveld Loneliness Scale. Binomial logistic regression was used to investigate the effects of loneliness severity on past month prevalence of hallucinations, and on the presence of social versus nonsocial hallucinations. STUDY RESULTS: Loneliness increased the prevalence of hallucinations across modalities in the past month. Moreover, stronger degree of loneliness increased the likelihood of hearing voices or laughter, and of hallucinating being touched. Conversely, loneliness decreased the likelihood of experiencing the nonsocial hallucination of a tingling feeling. As expected, loneliness did not increase the prevalence of experiencing nonsocial hallucinations. Surprisingly, neither was loneliness associated with experiencing felt presence. CONCLUSIONS: Our results are novel in showing that loneliness specifically increases the likelihood of hearing human sounds such as voices or laughter, or feeling a human touch. Hallucinations without social meaning were not more likely to be experienced with increasing loneliness. This forms a confirmation of the SDA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S25-S32
Number of pages8
JournalSchizophrenia Bulletin
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar-2023


  • loneliness/hallucinations/adolescents/young adults
  • social deafferentation

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