People who hear hallucinatory voices are more likely to be able to make out conversation across a noisy bar or untangle a garbled sentence, according to scientists at University College London and Durham University.
Experiments found that those with a history of hearing imaginary voices had a three in four chance of discerning a meaningful sentence in computer-distorted sounds, compared to less than half a chance among those without a history.
MRI scans confirmed that the region of the brain responsible for monitoring and attention performs better in "voice-hearers".
Up to 15 per cent of the population hear voices when no one is speaking, although only a fraction of these suffer to a clinically problematic extent, such as diagnoses of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
The team believes its discovery of an association between auditory verbal hallucinations and better hearing will lead to treatment for mental health problems.
Published in the journal Brain, the study involved 17 participants with a history of voice hearing and 17 without.
They were played distorted speech known as sine waves, "alien-like" noises which can be understood only if told to listen for certain words.
Without even being told the purpose of the exercise, the voice-hearers picked out the sentence 75 per cent of the time, compared to 47 per cent of the non voice-hearers. They also detected the sentence quicker than the non voice-hearers.
MRI scans showed that voice-hearers' brains automatically responded to sine waves containing language, but not meaningless waves.
The research was led by Durham University's Hearing the Voice project and also involved the universities of Porto, Westminster and Oxford.
Credit to: http://www.nzherald.co.nz