Sense of agency across contexts: Insights from schizophrenia and hypnosis


Passivity phenomena in schizophrenia are characterized by a sense of diminished agency. Clinical research into sense of agency has focused primarily on demonstrating impaired monitoring of self-generated actions in patients with passivity symptoms. Less attention has been paid to patients’ subjective experiences and clinical correlates of their sense of diminished agency. Our aim was first to investigate sense of agency and clinical symptoms in schizophrenia, both classic passivity phenomena and more general positive symptoms; and second, to contrast the agentive experiences of patients with a previously tested sample of 370 nonclinical, hypnotized participants. Twenty-six patients with schizophrenia completed ratings of classic passivity phenomena and of involuntariness associated with a particular experience of agency alteration. Severity of positive symptoms was also rated. Correlations examined interrelations between these measures. Patients reported considerable levels of involuntariness for both body-related and thought-related symptoms. Overall involuntariness ratings from patients were similar to those of high hypnotizable participants in hypnosis. These results indicate altered sense of agency is associated with a range of experiences in schizophrenia, not just classic passivity phenomena. Moreover, the experience of altered agency in schizophrenia was similar to that seen in hypnosis, suggesting that hypnotic analogues may be a useful way to test theories of passivity-like phenomena.

Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, (2), 3, pp. 301-314,