2014: Interwoven with Others

Ataa Oko

In a 2014 study, Tanya Luhrmann found that when people hear voices in their heads, the personae and tone of those voices are shaped by culture; in the United States, the voices are threatening and severe, but in Africa and India, they tend to be more playful or even reassuring:

While many of the African and Indian subjects registered predominantly positive experiences with their voices, not one American did. Rather, the….Americans experienced voices as bombardment and as symptoms of a brain disease caused by genes or trauma….Among the Indians in Chennai, more than half…heard voices of kin or family members commanding them to do tasks. “They talk as if elder people advising younger people,” one subject said….[S]everal heard the voices as playful, as manifesting spirits or magic, and even as entertaining….In Accra, Ghana, where the culture accepts that disembodied spirits can talk, few subjects described voices in brain disease terms. When people talked about their voices, 10 of them called the experience predominantly positive; 16 of them reported hearing God audibly.

Why the difference? Luhrmann offered an explanation: Europeans and Americans tend to see themselves as individuals motivated by a sense of self identity, whereas outside the West, people imagine the mind and self interwoven with others and defined through relationships. (source)

Art by Ghanaian artist Ataa Oko. See a video about him and his work here.

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3 Responses to 2014: Interwoven with Others

  1. Dec says:

    Really interesting! But I have to disagree with the explanation. The reason is much simpler: in the western world hearing voices I associated with madness and going insane, and thus the innate reaction to hearing them is negative: worry, paranoia etc. Whereas in African Indian tribes, society teaches voices as being something to be perceived as positive: a way to interact with deceased relatives and to guide you and give wisdom. Thus our advanced society is what gives the voices menace

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dec says:

    Yeah that’s a big question. But it can definitely be explained through 2 figures – Julian Jaynes and Lacan.

    Liked by 1 person

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