What are hallucinations?

What are hallucinations?

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The hallucinations they are a phenomenon in which one is convinced to perceive a stimulus, which does not exist. It is characterized, therefore, by perceiving the stimulus in a very clear way and because the person really believes in the existence of the stimulus.

In addition, the person maintains an objective perception of the rest of the real stimuli. A clear example of hallucination would be: "A person who sees a subject who moves and greets him with his hand in a place where there is no one."

Hallucination is a very salient feature of mental disorder. The typical socially created image where the "crazy" person claims to observe or listen to things that no one else can.

Nevertheless, a hallucination is not only caused by a mental disorder, since it can also be caused by peculiar situations, for the use of hallucinogenic drugs, for epilepsy due to fever, among other causes.


  • 1 Classification of hallucinations
  • 2 sensory pathways through which hallucination can occur
  • 3 References

Classification of hallucinations

Hallucinations tend to be classified under three different variables, among which are: degree of complexity, the content what are they and the sensory mode with which they are presented.

It is worth emphasizing that to perform an analysis or diagnosis based on this classification variables must be analyzed in an integrative way. That is, attending to all the variables.

According to its complexity

In the complex hallucinations the concrete stimulus is perceived. That is, if an object is present then it will be perceived very detailed, while in the elemental hallucinations the object is appreciated in a diffuse way. For example, a shadow or something little detailed. There will always be the doubt of "Have I really seen what I just saw?"

According to its content

The contents that hallucinations can cover are endless. However, these can be included in central issues such as:

  • The needs of the individual, where subthemes will be found as memories, fears, desires, among others
  • Or the contents of the person's environment as the influence of their ideologies that would create insecurity, shame, among others
  • Finally, we would find the vital and extreme circumstances of the person that worries you, since, for example, a person they keep in jail will tend to hallucinate with executioners, for example

According to the sensory modality

It refers to the route by which hallucination is evidenced. In most hallucinations occur visually or auditory. However, there are more ways, which will be referred to below.

Sensory pathways through which hallucination can occur

Visual hallucinations

A visual hallucination is one that occurs through sight. Thus, it has the following subdivisions based on size, theme, etc .:

  • According to the subject: hallucinations related to a specific topic.
    • Zoopsies: hallucinations related to insects.
    • Delirium tremens: hallucinations related to a multitude of topics, due to alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
  • According to the size: hallucination where things are more or less big.
    • Liliputian hallucination: hallucination where objects look tiny or smaller than normal.
    • Guliverian hallucination: hallucination where objects look huge, or larger than normal.
  • According to the qualities
    • Intensity: Very blurred or very dense.
    • Color: Grayscale hallucinations, single-color hallucinations, transparent, etc.
    • Movement: static or moving hallucinations.
    • Extension: The size they occupy in the visual field it occupies. Eg a class full of people who do not speak.
    • Position: See things where they are not. Ex. See a parrot on a beak.
    • Binoculars or Monoculars: With one eye or both.
    • Congruence or inconsistency: congruent hallucinations in which they are related to reality or incongruous where they have no coherence with reality. Eg a train flying, a dog on a bicycle.

There are visual hallucinations related to the subject's body, which are called autoscopy. Among these are:

  • Internal autoscopy, which occurs when a person sees the inside of his body. Ex. Veins, bones, viscera ...
  • External autoscopy, which occurs when someone sees the image of himself in front of him, as in the case of Döppelganger
  • Finally, we have the negative autoscopy that occurs when someone is not seen, or does not see their image reflected in a mirror. Case similar to that of vampires, who do not reflect their image in the mirror.

Auditory hallucinations

Auditory hallucinations are those whose path is hearing. That is, in these hallucinations the person "hears" a non-existent stimulus. These types of hallucinations are the most frequent along with visual hallucinations.

Auditory hallucinations, depending on their degree of complexity, can be presented as elementals, where the person hears tones, steps or murmurs. While in one complex auditory hallucination, the person hears clear and meaningful words. Among the variables to subdivide this type of hallucinations are:

  • Clarity: clarity with which it is perceived
  • Intensity: the magnitude of this unreal stimulus eg whispers, shouts, among others.
  • Location: distance at which it is perceived. Ex. Near, far.
  • Content: Simple or complex stimuli, below are examples of these.
    • Developers of certain information. Eg the person who listens to voices that tell him things like where his grandfather's cane is.
    • Voices that ask.
    • Voices that order.
    • Comments on acts they perform.
    • Erotic propositions of rude type.
    • Threatening voices
  • Ways of addressing the person: language terms and elements used. Eg monosyllables. Screams, whispers, etc.

Olfactory Hallucinations

In this case, hallucinations can occur where the person smells, from pleasant things to foul.

It is usual that are associated with poisonings, brain tumors, clinical conditions where people believe they are being poisoned, among others. In this way, patients consider these odors to aggravate them, or consider they are part of a persecution that seeks to cause them harm.

Taste hallucinations

These types of hallucinations cause unpleasant tastes, and patients relate them to certain types of beliefs, such as being poisoned.. But it is difficult to know what a hallucination really is, because in everyday life drinking or eating some medications or meals can alter the taste.

In some cases they are presented as caused by their own body, where the subject attributes the idea of ​​being rotting inside.

Touch hallucinations

These hallucinations can occur throughout the body. The subject may feel pinching, touching, electric currents, burns, among others. In this way, depending on the content of each of these can be distinguished:

  • Haptic: physical sensation Ex. Tickling.
  • Water: sensation of moisture.
  • Contact: someone touches the patient
  • Kinesthetic: when an individual says that a part of his body is moving. Determined by another subjective sensation that affects a different sense.
  • Active: when the person has the feeling of touching, that is, the person believes, for example, that he has touched a non-existent object such as having the feeling of touching insects, etc.
  • Passive: when the person has the feeling of being touched. The patient believes that there is someone or something that is touching, burning or pricking, etc.


Peña-Herrera, B. (2018) General Psychopathology. Samborondón: Espiritu Santo University - Ecuador.

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