Schizophrenia and Impaired Mimicry

mimicryPatients with schizophrenia have impaired mimicry, or the ability to imitate, and this causes them to have problems with social interaction.[1] A brain-mapping study conducted by neuroscientists at Vanderbilt University found that when patients with schizophrenia were asked to imitate simple hand movements, their brains showed abnormal activity in the “imitating area.”1

“The fact that patients with schizophrenia show abnormal brain activity when they imitate simple hand gestures is important because action imitation is a primary building block of social abilities,” said Katharine Thakkar, PhD, first author of the study. “The ability to imitate is present early in life and is crucial for learning how to navigate the social world. According to current theory, covert imitation is also the most fundamental way that we understand the intentions and feelings of other people.”1

Patients who struggle with schizophrenia have ongoing difficulties with social interactions, making it hard for them to maintain relationships and employment.1

Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami—Miller School of Medicine, Philip D. Harvey, PhD, said, “As people with schizophrenia commonly have major social problems, understanding their origin, both neurological and behavioral, is critically important. While study of the activation of the brain while observing versus imitating hand movements may seem too specific to be relevant, it is actually targeting a critical learning process with specific relevance to social functioning.”1

In patients with schizophrenia, the brain network that is involved in imitation seems less specialized for social information, which raises the question of agency.1

Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair of Psychology and study director Sohee Park, PhD, said, “If the same group of neurons fire when I am writing and when I watch you writing, how do I know who is doing the writing? But we are almost always certain of who is doing what. Our research implicates the role of this network in individuals with schizophrenia who frequently have serious problems determining agency.”1

As mimicry is not a matter of an improperly tuned brain circuitry, Park does not believe a drug treatment will be found.1 Instead, there is greater promise in training methods to improve cognitive skills.1

[1] Pedersen, T. (2014). Mimicry Impaired in Those With Schizophrenia. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 18, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/03/16/mimicry-impaired-in-those-with-schizophrenia/67132.html

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