• stress;
  • expectation;
  • auditory hallucination;
  • anxiety;
  • signal detection

Both psychological stress and predictive signals relating to expected sensory input are believed to influence perception, an influence which, when disrupted, may contribute to the generation of auditory hallucinations. The effect of stress and semantic expectation on auditory perception was therefore examined in healthy participants using an auditory signal detection task requiring the detection of speech from within white noise. Trait anxiety was found to predict the extent to which stress influenced response bias, resulting in more anxious participants adopting a more liberal criterion, and therefore experiencing more false positives, when under stress. While semantic expectation was found to increase sensitivity, its presence also generated a shift in response bias towards reporting a signal, suggesting that the erroneous perception of speech became more likely. These findings provide a potential cognitive mechanism that may explain the impact of stress on hallucination-proneness, by suggesting that stress has the tendency to alter response bias in highly anxious individuals. These results also provide support for the idea that top-down processes such as those relating to semantic expectation may contribute to the generation of auditory hallucinations.