Background: Prepulse inhibition (PPI) of the startle response refers to the ability of a weak prestimulus to transiently inhibit the response to a closely following strong sensory stimulus. This effect is reduced in a number of disorders known to be associated with impaired gating of sensory, cognitive or motor information. The aim of this study was to investigate PPI deficit in relation to the dimensions of auditory hallucinations in patients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. Method: PPI of the acoustically elicited eye blink startle response was measured electromyographically in 62 patients with schizophrenia (n = 55) or schizoaffective disorder (n = 7) (26 of 62 with current auditory hallucinations) and 22 healthy participants matched, on average, to age and sex of the patient group. Results: Patients, as a group, showed reduced PPI compared to healthy participants. The presence of auditory hallucinations was associated with a marked PPI deficit if the patients felt that they had no control over their occurrence and that they were unable to dismiss them. Hearing voices with a high degree of negative content was associated with high mean startle amplitude in patients with current auditory hallucinations. Conclusions: Although auditory hallucinations in patients with schizophrenia are theorised to result from impaired monitoring of inner speech, the inability to consciously ignore them appears to be associated with a gating deficit. Hearing voices with negative content is associated with hyper-startle responding, possibly because such voices are threatening and thus provoke anxiety. © 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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