Katharina Schmack, Ana Gomez-Carrillo de Castro, Marcus Rothkirch, Maria Sekutowicz, Hannes Rossler, John-Dylan Haynes, Andreas Heinz, Predrag Petrovic, and Philipp Sterzer
J. Neurosci. 2013;33 13701-13712
Delusions are unfounded yet tenacious beliefs and a symptom of psychotic disorder. Varying degrees of delusional ideation are also found in the healthy population. Here, we empirically validated a neurocognitive model that explains both the formation and the persistence of delusional beliefs in terms of altered perceptual inference. In a combined behavioral and functional neuroimaging study in healthy participants, we used ambiguous visual stimulation to probe the relationship between delusion-proneness and the effect of learned predictions on perception. Delusional ideation was associated with less perceptual stability, but a stronger belief-induced bias on perception, paralleled by enhanced functional connectivity between frontal areas that encoded beliefs and sensory areas that encoded perception. These findings suggest that weakened lower-level predictions that result in perceptual instability are implicated in the emergence of delusional beliefs. In contrast, stronger higher-level predictions that sculpt perception into conformity with beliefs might contribute to the tenacious persistence of delusional beliefs.