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Splintered Minds

by Kathleen Cason


Intro  |  Hallmarks of schizophrenia  |  Social skills  |  
Relative risks  |  Seeing is believing

 Mind Reading

 The Cost of Madness

 A Who's Who of Schizophrenia

Social Skills

Along with former doctoral student Tracy Waldeck, now at the National Institute of Mental Health in Washington, D.C., Miller published one of the first studies to examine social skills in people with schizotypal personality disorder — a related illness thought to be part of a continuum with schizophrenia as the final and most severe end point.

Individuals with schizotypal personality have many of the same — albeit less severe — symptoms as individuals with schizophrenia. "There are cognitive, biological and neuroanatomical links between schizophrenia and schizotypal personality disorder," Miller said.

Graduate student Jeffrey Bedwell (left) uses brain scans to pinpoint regions of the brain that may be affected by schizophrenia. A technician at HealthSouth Inc. prepares a participant in one of his studies (right) for an fMRI.

Both disorders share many similarities: the way the brain processes information, a reduced ability to concentrate and structural abnormalities in the brain, to name a few. There’s also a genetic link. Like schizophrenia, SPD runs in families. The main difference is the severity of the deficits and, unlike schizophrenia, people with SPD are usually not taking medications that interfere with cognitive studies.

Scientists had already determined that people with schizophrenia have difficulty dealing with social situations: They may avoid eye contact, speak too loudly or use inappropriate gestures. What Miller and Waldek wanted to find out was whether — or how much — this trait also affected people with SPD.

Participants in the study — both with and without SPD — performed three tasks to determine how their social skills stacked up.

First, participants identified the emotions depicted in black and white pictures of adult faces: interest, contempt, fear, shame, disgust, surprise, anger and joy. Next, participants listened to a tape-recorded description of a common social situation and were asked to act out a response. Last, they completed a multiple-choice questionnaire to see if they could identify appropriate social behavior in others.

What the researchers found is that the social skills of people with SPD mirrored those with schizophrenia: They correctly recognize emotions and inappropriate behavior in others but were not as good as those without SPD at choosing an appropriate response to a social situation.

While Miller didn’t compare the behaviors of people in this study directly to those of schizophrenics, the study supports the notion that SPD is part of a continuum of related disorders and that studying people with less severe disorders may shed light on schizophrenia.

But to get a handle on the inherited behaviors, Miller took another tack. He and Jeffrey Bedwell, a doctoral student on his research team, set out to study cognitive deficits in relatives of schizophrenics.


Intro  |  Hallmarks of schizophrenia  |  Social skills  |  
Relative risks  |  Seeing is believing



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