Brain Mapping Furthers Understanding of Why Imitation is Difficult in Schizophrenia

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Sohee Park, Ph.D. - Brain and behavior research expert on schizophrenia
Sohee Park, Ph.D.

We imitate others to learn behaviors and acquire skills, including social skills. This ability is impaired in people with schizophrenia, and new research led by 2012 NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grantee Sohee Park, Ph.D., is helping identify the brain mechanisms involved in this difficulty. The results of the new work were reported online on March 14th by the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The study was the first to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to map levels of brain activity of patients with schizophrenia and healthy controls when asked to imitate some simple tasks. The researchers discovered abnormal activity in a neural network composed of aptly named mirror neurons in the patients with schizophrenia. These cells fire both when we, ourselves, perform an action and when we watch someone else perform it.

Dr. Park, who holds the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair of Psychology at Vanderbilt University, states: "The mirror neuron system raises the question of agency. 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." Dr. Park is a four-time NARSAD Grantee (1991, 1996, 2004 and 2012).

Dr. Park and colleagues are now working to design tests and treatments that specifically target the mirror neuron network. She states: "We need to be innovative and make use of the brain's plasticity to develop new technology that can rewire their [patients with schizophrenia] brains from the bottom up. We are currently working with a robotics engineering group led by Vanderbilt Professor of Mechanical Engineering Nilanjan Sarkar to make this happen.”

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Article comments

Thank you for your work - I believe what you describe is my loved ones biggest struggle, when I ask him a question I can almost see the back and forth in his mind unable to decide what data source to chose from to answer my simple questions. I wondered if ready to wear tech like Google Glass can help with this somehow - I realize this is very different from your research but maybe Google glass could repeat my question at an interval that his brain would respond to more efficiently. I look forward to reading more about your work.

What are the differences in brain activity between imitation and involuntary channeling which patients fight? Does medication aid in stopping one while limiting the other? What does that mean for learning curves?

If one is an excellent liar, and thus one is displaced from being truly in touch with reality, then the enactment of imitation is just an easy breeze, since one is repeating the act of another without actually being in touch with the truth of the enactment that is taking place at hand.

If, however, ones mind focuses upon truths and sees truths, and thus in turn is truly in touch with reality, then the enactment of imitation becomes tough indeed, since performing the enactment of imitation requires displacement from the knowing of the complete truth of the enactment.

If one accepts without question, then one can absorb knowledge like a sponge and whiz through grade school and university via the requirement of only gentle effort. Thus if you have that monkey see monkey do like mentality, thus you do not have the intellect to question immediate matters at hand, then you will do well in today's schools.

If, on the other hand, your brain has evolved beyond the monkey see monkey do limitation, thus ones brain questions what it is being "told" to learn, then, due to not having a blind sponge learning mentality, learning is therefore a slow process and thus you will be regarded as being a slow and backward learner, all this due to your advanced intellect not having been recognized by the lessors.

If you are truly in touch with reality it would be easy for you to see the truth concerning an optical illusion known as the "hollow mask".

If you are not in touch with reality it would be difficult for you to see the truth concerning the optical illusion known as the "hollow mask".

With this all taken into account, today's advanced minds are regarded as impaired minds and also as minds that are detached from reality, since they can also see and experience things that the lessors can not.

I so think your view's on Schizophrenia was educational. I think I understood overall you were telling the public if a person with Schizophrenia was a liar he would start to believe his own lie. Due to him not being able to separate truth from untruth right. In
his or her mine the person Schizophrenia does not understand reality.

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