Hallucinations on demand: the utility of experimentally induced phenomena in hallucination research

Sebastian Rogers, Rebecca Keogh, Joel Pearson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Despite the desire to delve deeper into hallucinations of all types, methodological obstacles have frustrated development of more rigorous quantitative experimental techniques, thereby hampering research progress. Here, we discuss these obstacles and, with reference to visual phenomena, argue that experimentally induced phenomena (e.g. hallucinations induced by flickering light and classical conditioning) can bring hallucinations within reach of more objective behavioural and neural measurement. Expanding the scope of hallucination research raises questions about which phenomena qualify as hallucinations, and how to identify phenomena suitable for use as laboratory models of hallucination. Due to the ambiguity inherent in current hallucination definitions, we suggest that the utility of phenomena for use as laboratory hallucination models should be represented on a continuous spectrum, where suitability varies with the degree to which external sensory information constrains conscious experience. We suggest that existing strategies that group pathological hallucinations into meaningful subtypes based on hallucination characteristics (including phenomenology, disorder and neural activity) can guide extrapolation from hallucination models to other hallucinatory phenomena. Using a spectrum of phenomena to guide scientific hallucination research should help unite the historically separate fields of psychophysics, cognitive neuroscience and clinical research to better understand and treat hallucinations, and inform models of consciousness. This article is part of the theme issue 'Offline perception: Voluntary and spontaneous perceptual experiences without matching external stimulation'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20200233
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1817
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • hallucination
  • induced hallucination
  • laboratory model
  • methodology


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