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Pseudohallucinations: a conceptual history

  • G. E. Berrios (a1) and T. R. Dening (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 July 2009

The term ‘pseudohallucination’ is currently used to name imaginal experiences whose relationship to one another and to hallucinations ‘proper’ remains obscure. Clinicians, including specialists in psychopathology, disagree on how pseudohallucination must be defined and on its diagnostic role. Empirical research is unlikely to help as the term does not have a stable referent. Historical and conceptual analyses, on the other hand, are of great use to show how this untidy state of affairs has obtained. This paper includes a full account of the history of pseudohallucination and concludes that: (a) the problem has resulted from the fact that the history of the word, concept (s) and putative behaviour (s) failed to ‘converge’ (i.e. there never has been a time when the three components have formed a stable complex); (b) failure to converge has been caused by the fact that the concept of pseudohallucination is parasitical upon that of hallucination, and that the latter has proved to be far more unstable than what is usually recognized; (c) hence, pseudohallucination is a vicarious construct (i.e. one created by a temporary conceptual need, and which is not associated with a biological invariant); (d) pseudohallucination is used as the ‘joker’ in a poker game (i.e. made to take diagnostic values according to clinical need) – this has led to diagnostic complacency and retarded important decisions as to the nature and definition of hallucinations; and (e) the language of current descriptive psychopathology is not fine-grained enough to generate a stable frame for pseudohallucination. This suggests that its boundaries and usage will remain fuzzy and unbridled.

Corresponding author
1Address for correspondence: Dr G. E. Berrios, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke's Hospital (Box 189), Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2QQ.
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T. Dening & G. E. Berrios (1996). The enigma of pseudohallucinations: current meaning and usage. Psychopathology (in the press).

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M. Spitzer (1987). Pseudohalluzinationen. Forschritte Neurologie und Psychiatrie 55, 9197.

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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
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