By examining first-person descriptions of thought insertion I show that thought insertion is a complex and heterogeneous phenomenon. People experiencing this phenomenon have huge difficulty explaining what it is like due to the bizarre nature of the experience. Through careful analysis of first-person descriptions I identify some of the characteristics of thought insertion. I then briefly examine some of the philosophical literature regarding agency, ownership and thought insertion and conclude that the standard account of the basic characteristics of thought insertion is inadequate when we consider the phenomenon as it is experienced. First person descriptions suggest that thought insertion is characterised by a lack of personal ownership and not simply by a loss of agency or authorship. This is an important factor that should inform research and therapeutic intervention. We cannot hope to arrive at appropriate therapeutic intervention or identify underlying neuronal mechanisms for the experience if we cannot say what the experience actually is. I further suggest that more analysis of first-person description is required for an improved account of the phenomenology of thought insertion.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
All Web forums used are open-access (accessible to all), full names of users are not given and in most cases forum users go by their membership nicknames.
Albahari, M. 2006. Analytical Buddhism: the two-tiered illusion of self. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
American Psychiatric Association. DSM-5 Task Force. 2013. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5, 5th ed. Arlington: American Psychiatric Association.
Bortolotti, L., and M. Broome. 2009. A role for ownership and authorship in the analysis of thought insertion. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 8(2): 205–224.
Campbell, J. 1999. Schizophrenia, the space of reasons, and thinking as a motor process. The Monist 82(4): 609–625.
Feinberg, I. 1978. Efference copy and corollary discharge: implications for thinking and its disorders. Schizophrenia Bulletin 4(4): 636–640.
Festinger, L. 1964. When prophecy fails: a social and psychological study of a modern group that predicted the destruction of the world. Researches in the social, cultural and behavioral sciences. Harper & Row.
Frith, C.D. 1992. The cognitive neuropsychology of schizophrenia. Essays in cognitive psychology. Hove: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Frith, C.D., S.-J. Blakemore, and D.M. Wolpert. 2000. Abnormalities in the awareness and control of action. Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences 355(1404): 1771–1788.
Gallagher, S. 2000. Philosophical conceptions of the self: implications for cognitive science. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 4(1): 14–21.
Gallagher, S. 2004. The structure and development of self-consciousness. In Agency, ownership, and alien control in schizophrenia. Advances in consciousness research, ed. D. Zahavi, T. Grunbaum, and J. Parnas, 89–103. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Co.
Gerrans, P. 2001. Authorship and ownership of thoughts. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 8(2): 231–237.
Gibbs, P.J. 2000. Thought insertion and the inseparability thesis. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 7(3): 195–202.
Jaspers, K. 1997. General psychopathology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Langland-Hassan, P. 2008. Fractured phenomenologies: thought insertion, inner speech, and the puzzle of extraneity. Mind & Language 23(4): 369–401.
Martin, J.-R., and E. Pacherie. 2013. Out of nowhere: thought insertion, ownership and context-integration. Consciousness and Cognition 22(1): 111–122.
Nordgaard, J., L.A. Sass, and J. Parnas. 2012. The psychiatric interview: validity, structure, and subjectivity. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience 263(4): 353–364.
Parnas, J., and L.A. Sass. 2001. Self, solipsism, and schizophrenic delusions. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 8(2): 101–120.
Romme, M.A., S. Escher, J. Dillon, et al., 2009. Living with voices: 50 stories of recovery, PCCS Books in association with Birmingham City University.
Sass, L.A. 1994. The paradoxes of delusion: Wittgenstein, Schreber, and the schizophrenic mind. Ithaca: London: Cornell University Press.
Sass, L., and E. Pienkos. 2013. Delusion: the phenomenological approach. In The oxford handbook of philosophy and psychiatry, ed. K.W.M. Fulford, M. Davies, R.G. Gipps, et al., 632–656. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sousa, P., and L. Swiney. 2013. Thought insertion: abnormal sense of thought agency or thought endorsement? Phenomenology And The Cognitive Sciences 12(4): 637–654.
Stanghellini, G. 2013. Philosophical resources for the psychiatric interview. In The oxford handbook of philosophy and psychiatry, ed. K.W.M. Fulford, M. Davies, R.G. Gipps, et al., 321–356. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Stephens, G.L. 2000. Thought insertion and subjectivity. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 7(3): 203–205.
Stephens, G.L., and G. Graham. 1994. Self-consciousness, mental agency, and the clinical psychopathology of thought insertion. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 1(1): 1–10.
Stephens, G.L., and G. Graham. 2000. When self-conciousness breaks: alien voices and inserted thoughts. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Tavris, C., and E. Aronson. 2008. Mistakes were made (but not by me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, Bad decisions, and hurtful acts. Orlando: Harcourt.
Waters, F.A.V., and J.C. Badcock. 2010. First-rank symptoms in schizophrenia: reexamining mechanisms of self-recognition. Schizophrenia Bulletin 36(3): 510–517.
Weinberger, D.R., and P.J. Harrison (eds.). 2011. Schizophrenia, 3rd ed. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.
World Health Organization. 1993. The ICD-10 classification of mental and behavioural disorders clinical descriptions and diagnostic guidelines. Geneva: World Health Organization.
Zahavi, D. 2001. Schizophrenia and self-awareness. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 8(4): 339–341.
Zahavi, D. 2011. Unity of consciousness and the problem of the self. In The oxford handbook of the self, ed. S. Gallagher, 314–336. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Alienonite. 2010. Crazyboards Forum [online], posted 04/04/10, available via: http://www.crazyboards.org/forums/index.php/topic/37139-thought-insertion/ [retrieved 16/07/11]
Andypr. 2013. Schizophrenia Forum [online], posted Dec 2013, available via: http://forum.schizophrenia.com/t/thought-insertion-a-human-like-character-in-me/1126 [retrieved 28/09/14]
Anna. 2014. Schizophrenia Forum [online], posted 25/08/14, available via: http://forum.schizophrenia.com/t/would-you-consider-this-as-hearing-voices/9973/15 [retrieved 28/09/14]
Anonymous. 2010. e Health Forum [online], posted 22/03/10, available via: http://ehealthforum.com/health/thought-insertion-t224529.html#ixzz1SCX1wr5B [retrieved 15/07/11]
Firebird. 2010. Crazyboards Forum [online], posted 04/04/2010, available via: http://www.crazyboards.org/forums/index.php/topic/37139-thought-insertion/ [retrieved 16/07/11]
LevelJ1. 2014. Schizophrenia Forum [online], posted 26/08/14, available via: http://forum.schizophrenia.com/t/would-you-consider-this-as-hearing-voices/9973/18 [retrieved 28/09/14]
Mussel. 2014. Schizophrenia Forum [online], posted Aug 2014, available via: http://forum.schizophrenia.com/t/would-you-consider-this-as-hearing-voices/9973/6 [retrieved 29/04/15]
Saadiqah. 2014. Schizophrenia Forum [online], posted Aug 2014, available via: http://forum.schizophrenia.com/t/would-you-consider-this-as-hearing-voices/9973/2 [retrieved 29/04/15]
Star-28. 2010. Mental Health Forum [online], posted 27/09/10, available via: http://www.mentalhealthforum.net/forum/showthread.php?15811-intrusive-thoughts-thought-insertion [retrieved 16/07/11]
I am grateful to the two anonymous reviewers and to Professor Lisa Bortolotti for their valuable feedback.
About this article
Cite this article
Gunn, R. On Thought Insertion. Rev.Phil.Psych. 7, 559–575 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13164-015-0271-2
- Mental Activity
- Intrusive Thought
- Thought Insertion
- Personal Ownership
- Passivity Phenomenon