Social Cues Are Difficult for People with Schizophrenia

Social Cues Are Difficult for People with Schizophrenia New research finds that impairment in a brain area make it difficult for people with schizophrenia to understand the nonverbal actions of others. “Misunderstanding social situations and interactions are core deficits in schizophrenia,” said psychologist Dr. Sohee Park of Vanderbilt University. “Our findings may help explain the origins of some of the delusions involving perception and thoughts experienced by those with schizophrenia.” Researchers found that a particular brain area, the posterior superior temporal sulcus or STS, appears to be implicated in this deficit. “Using brain imaging together with perceptual testing, we found that a brain area in a neural network involved in perception of social stimuli responds abnormally in individuals with schizophrenia,” said co-author Randolph Blake, Ph.D. “We found this brain area fails to distinguish genuine biological motion from highly distorted versions of that motion.” “We have found… that people with schizophrenia tend to ‘see’ living things in randomness and this subjective experience is correlated with an increased activity in the (posterior) STS,” the authors wrote. “In the case of biological motion perception, these self-generated, false impressions of meaning can have negative social consequences, in that schizophrenia patients may misconstrue the actions or intentions of other people.” In their experiments, the researchers compared the performance of people with schizophrenia to that of healthy controls on two visual tasks. One task involved deciding whether or not an animated series of lights depicted the movements of an actor’s body. The second task entailed judging subtle differences in the actions depicted by two similar animations viewed side by side. On both tasks, people with schizophrenia performed less well than the healthy controls. Next, the researchers measured brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while the subjects—healthy controls and schizophrenia patients—performed a version of the side-by-side task. Once again, the individuals with schizophrenia performed worse on the task. The researchers were then able to correlate those performance deficits with the brain activity in each person. Researchers do not yet understand this specific brain area in schizophrenia patients fails to differentiate normal human activity from non-human motion. They speculate that this abnormal brain activation contributes to the patients’ difficulties reading social cues in the actions of others. Their findings are published in the journal PLoS ONE. Source: Vanderbilt University

Postural Problems a Sign of Bipolar Illness?

Postural Problems a Sign of Bipolar Illness?Although motor deficits often accompany a mood or psychiatric disorder, most researchers have not targeted motor areas as a method to improve mental health. In a new study, researchers at Indiana University suggests that postural control problems may be a core feature of bipolar disorder, not just a random symptom. The investigators believe attention to the postural problems can provide insights both into areas of the brain affected by the psychiatric disorder and new potential targets for treatment. Bipolar disorder is a severe psychiatric disorder characterized by extreme, debilitating mood swings and unusual shifts in a person’s energy and ability to function. Balance, postural control and other motor control issues are frequently experienced by people with mood and psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and neurological disorders such as Huntington’s and Parkinson’s disease. In this study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, researchers surmised that problems with postural control — maintaining balance while holding oneself upright — are a core component of bipolar disorder. As such, the researchers believe it is possible that the motor abnormalities could appear before other symptoms, signaling an increased risk for the disorder. According, researchers wanted to know if therapies that improve motor symptoms may also help mood disorders. “For a number of psychological disorders, many different psychiatric treatments and therapies have been tried, with marginal effects over the long term. Researchers are really starting to look at new targets,” said Amanda Bolbecker, Ph.D., lead author of the study. “Our study suggests that brain areas traditionally believed to be responsible for motor behavior might represent therapeutic targets for bipolar disorder.” The link between motor and mental is not as distant as some would believe. For example, try as we might, humans cannot stand perfectly still. “Instead, we make small adjustments at our hips and ankles based on what our eyes, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and semi-circular canals tells us,” said S. Lee Hong, Ph.D., a study co-author. “The better these sensory sources are integrated, the less someone sways.” Areas of the brain that are critical for motor control, mainly the cerebellum, basal ganglia and brain stem, also aid in mood regulation and are areas where abnormalities often are found in people with bipolar disorder. Postural sway — a measure of the endless adjustments people make in an attempt to stand still — is considered a sensitive gauge of motor control that likely is affected by these abnormalities. In the study, participants who had bipolar disorder displayed more postural sway, particularly when their eyes were closed, than study participants who had no psychological disorders. The troubles, which involved the study participants’ proprioception, or ability to process non-visual sensory information related to balance, were not affected by their mood or the severity of their disorder. “It appears that people with bipolar disorder process sensory information differently and this is seen in their inability to adapt their movement patterns to different conditions, such as eyes open vs. eyes closed or feet together vs. feet apart,” said Hong, whose research focuses on how humans control motion. “The different conditions will cause people to use the information their senses provide differently, in order to allow them to maintain their balance.” Additional research is called for as investigations involving motor control, mood and psychiatric disorders are complicated by the fact that the primary treatment for these disorders is medication, which can have severe side effects including motor control problems. Source: Indiana University
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