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Mysteries of the Mind: Researchers take aim at schizophrenia's thinking problems

January 28, 2013

The schizophrenic brain is hobbled by three problems -- delusions, hallucinations and thinking difficulties. And even though most people associate the disease with hearing voices and being afflicted with paranoid thoughts, many researchers believe the most important symptom to tackle is the cognitive challenges people with schizophrenia face. Vaibhav Diwadkar, a neuroscientist at Wayne State University, is trying to see if there are ways to detect who's at greatest risk for the disease so doctors can intervene early, before symptoms strike. To do that, he is studying the children of parents who have schizophrenia. While the risk in the general population of getting the disease is 1-2 percent, children of parents with the disease have a 30-50 percent risk of getting a major psychiatric illness during their lifetimes. Using brain imaging, Diwadkar looked at how these children reacted to pictures of happy faces vs. angry or sad faces. Compared to a matched group of typical young people, the children of schizophrenic parents reacted less strongly to the positive faces, and showed more signs of trying to suppress their reactions to the negative faces. Those findings fit with symptoms of the disease, in which patients often have trouble enjoying life and perceive threats in the world around them. The children will need to be tracked to see which of them develop schizophrenia symptoms in later years, but ultimately, Diwadkar would like to develop tests that might allow early treatment.