For Better Understanding, Researcher Simulates Schizophrenia in Healthy People

Jul 19, 2007

To better understand schizophrenia, a University of Missouri-Columbia psychology researcher simulated one of its more common symptoms - the inability to speak clearly or respond to questions in a precise manner - in people who don't have the illness.

"This study is about working with people who are not schizophrenic and observing whether, under experimental conditions, we could make them act like people with schizophrenia," said John Kerns, assistant professor of clinical psychology in the College of Arts and Science. "In the lab, we challenged their working memory ability as they spoke and simulated deficits found within people with schizophrenia."

He discovered that communication disturbances, or poor communication skills, occur - even in healthy people - when rigorous demands are placed on working memory, which is the brain's ability to maintain information. The study also revealed that an even greater degree of speech disorganization happens when other mental processing requirements are combined with working memory stress.

Findings from this study are consistent with a recent experiment related to the illness. In May, Kerns established a link between poor communication skills and working memory in people with schizophrenia. However, no causation was established because the study was correlational and working memory ability or level of symptoms could not be experimentally manipulated.

"It's two ways of reaching the same conclusion," he said. "In the study with patients, we find that working memory correlates with disorganized speech. With healthy people, working memory manipulation causes an increase in disorganized speech."

There were 82 healthy participants in the study. While conducting speech tasks, Kerns manipulated the levels of stress on their brains. Participants were asked to talk while listening to letters through a set of headphones. In another phase of the study, they looked at a picture on two separate occasions and were asked to tell two completely different stories about the picture. The sessions were recorded and Kerns' research team evaluated the data and scored the speech impairments.

"Potentially, performing any secondary task, while speaking, will throw off your speech because of a general increase in cognitive demands," Kerns said. "We wanted to compare conditions and see if doing any task disrupts speech, or is it specifically working memory demands. We found that it was only the working memory demands that caused an increase in disorganized speech."

The current study, "Experimental Manipulation of Cognitive Control Processes Causes an Increase in Communication Disturbances in Healthy Volunteers," will be published in the July issue of Psychological Medicine.

Kerns' previous study, "Verbal Communication Impairments and Cognitive Control Components in People with Schizophrenia," was published in the May issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

Source: University of Missouri

Explore further: Three of four California children with mental health needs don't get treatment

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

A blood test for suicide?

2 hours ago

Johns Hopkins researchers say they have discovered a chemical alteration in a single human gene linked to stress reactions that, if confirmed in larger studies, could give doctors a simple blood test to reliably predict a ...

Could summer camp be the key to world peace?

17 hours ago

According to findings from a new study by University of Chicago Booth School of Business Professor Jane Risen, and Chicago Booth doctoral student Juliana Schroeder, it may at least be a start.

Gender disparities in cognition will not diminish

Jul 28, 2014

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, investigated the extent to which improvements in living conditions and educational opportunities over a person's life affect cognitive abilities and th ...

Facial features are the key to first impressions

Jul 28, 2014

A new study by researchers in the Department of Psychology at the University of York shows that it is possible to accurately predict first impressions using measurements of physical features in everyday images of faces, such ...

User comments : 0