Corpus linguistics and clinical psychology: examining the psychosis continuum

Luke Collins1 & Elena Semino2

1CASS, Lancaster University  2LAEL, Lancaster University

We present our work with the 'Hearing the Voice' project, a study exploring experiences of Auditory Verbal Hallucinations (AVHs), or voices that others cannot hear. Auditory Verbal Hallucinations are experienced by a large proportion of individuals with a psychiatric diagnosis (such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder) and approximately 1% of people with no psychiatric diagnosis (Kråvik et al., 2015). Researchers have investigated similarities/differences across 'clinical' and 'non-clinical' populations (i.e. those who seek clinical support for their experiences and those who do not) and proposed a 'continuum' model for those experiences. Our corpus linguistic approach offers a novel contribution to debates in clinical psychology around the validity of the 'psychosis continuum' model.

We analysed semi-structured interviews with 67 'voice-hearers': 27 self-identified 'Spiritualists' (non-clinical) and 40 individuals registered with Early Intervention in Psychosis services (clinical) to consider what evidence there is for a 'continuum' with respect to their reports. We conducted a keyness analysis at the level of semantic domains, using the USAS tagger (Rayson, 2008). From the list of key semantic domains, we identified four major themes through which to investigate the (dis)similarity of aspects of the voice-hearing experience across our two cohorts: Affect; Control; Meaning-making; and Sensory input. These themes corresponded with aspects of the voice-hearing experience identified by psychologists as points of similarity/difference between clinical and non-clinical populations (Baumeister et al., 2017).

We found that there is evidence for continuity between the reports of clinical and non-clinical participants, though in some circumstances there is also grounds for considering sub-categories of the clinical population. Our analysis thereby offers the means through which to critically assess the validity of the 'continuum' model and consider its implications for clinical treatment.


Baumeister, D., Sedgwick, O., Howes, O., Peters, E. (2017) Auditory verbal hallucinations and continuum models of psychosis: A systematic review of the healthy voice-hearer literature. Clinical Psychology Review 51: 125-41.

Kråkvik. B., Larøi, F., Kalhovde, A. M., Hugdahl, K., Kompus, K., Salvesen, Ø., Stiles, T. C. and Vedul-Kjelsås, E. (2015) Prevalence of auditory verbal hallucinations in a general population: a group comparison study. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 56: 508-15.

Rayson, P. (2008) From key words to key semantic domains. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 13(4): 519-549.

Week 11 2019/2020

Thursday 16th January 2020

Charles Carter A18