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iPod users in musical hallucination threat

More music, more madness, says brain boffin

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The increasing use of iPods and greater exposure to music generally may lead to an increase in "musical hallucinations", a psychiatrist has claimed. These are not, explains Victor Aziz of Cardiff's Whitchurch Hospital in today's Guardian, simply a case of getting Crazy Frog stuck in your unwilling brain, but the full-blown equivalent of visual hallucinations.

As Adrian Rees, an expert in auditory neurology at Newcastle University, elaborates: "It's not like having a tune going around in your head. This is something you can't turn off or change to another record."

Aziz expands with a chilling example: "People will all of a sudden start hearing a song, such as Yes, We Have No Bananas," although he adds that musical hallucinations are uncommon and often associated to psychiatric conditions, brain tumours or epilepsy.

Aziz's research probed the experiences of 65 to 90-year olds. Boffins had previously thought that musical hallucinations were more prevalent among those who had given their ears a bashing during their youth, but Aziz reckons that a lot of his guinea pigs were hearing more recent material.

The upshot of all this is, according to Aziz, that the more music we're exposed to, the more likely we are to suffer musical hallucinations. He warns: "We are now exposed to a barrage of music and it seems that we might well see more cases of this in the future. We'll only know if we test people in 20 years' time."

One last thing: if you do find yourself suffering from a sudden and full-blown attack of Yes, We Have No Bananas, then your iPod might actually prove your salvation. Sheffield University psychiatrist, Peter Woodruff, says: "What they [hallucination sufferers] find is that by playing real music, it competes with the hallucination and suppresses it."

So there you have it. Detach youself from that iPod or pay the price. Or, if you've already effectively overdosed on garage/dance/trance, keep it close to hand for when the banana song comes back to haunt you. ®

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