Affectively Salient Meaning in Random Noise: A Task Sensitive to Psychosis Liability

Mariana Galdos, Claudia Simons, Aranzazu Fernandez-Rivas, Marieke Wichers, Concepcion Peralta, Tineke Lataster, Guillermo Amer, Inez Myin-Germeys, Judith Allardyce, Miguel Angel Gonzalez-Torres, Jim van Os*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Stable differences in the tendency to attribute meaning and emotional value to experience may represent an indicator of liability to psychosis. A brief task was developed assessing variation in detecting affectively meaningful speech (speech illusion) in neutral random signals (white noise) and the degree to which this was associated with psychometric and familial vulnerability for psychosis. Thirty patients, 28 of their siblings, and 307 controls participated. The rate of speech illusion was compared between cases and controls. In controls, the association between speech illusion and interview-based positive schizotypy was assessed. The hypothesis of a dose-response increase in rate of speech illusion across increasing levels of familial vulnerability for psychosis (controls, siblings of patients, and patients) was examined. Patients were more likely to display speech illusions than controls (odds ratio [OR] = 4.0, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.4-11.7), also after controlling for neurocognitive variables (OR = 3.8, 95% CI = 1.04-14.1). The case-control difference was more accentuated for speech illusion perceived as affectively salient (positively or negatively appraised) than for neutrally appraised speech illusions. Speech illusion in the controls was strongly associated with positive schizotypy but not with negative schizotypy. In addition, the rate of speech illusion increased with increasing level of familial risk for psychotic disorder. The data suggest that the white noise task may be sensitive to psychometric and familial vulnerability for psychosis associated with alterations in top-down processing and/or salience attribution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1179-1186
JournalSchizophrenia Bulletin
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


  • psychotic disorders
  • experimental design
  • delusions
  • hallucinations
  • environment


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