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Stuck in neutral: Brain defect traps schizophrenics in twilight zone
Date:8/16/2014

People with schizophrenia struggle to turn goals into actions because brain structures governing desire and emotion are less active and fail to pass goal-directed messages to cortical regions affecting human decision-making, new research reveals.

Published in Biological Psychiatry, the finding by a University of Sydney research team is the first to illustrate the inability to initiate goal-directed behaviour common in people with schizophrenia.

The finding may explain why people with schizophrenia have difficulty achieving real-world goals such as making friends, completing education and finding employment.

"The apparent lack of motivation in schizophrenic patients isn't because they lack goals or don't enjoy rewards and pleasure," says the University of Sydney's Dr Richard Morris, the study's lead author. "They enjoy as many experiences as other people, including food, movies and scenes of natural beauty.

"What appears to block them are specific brain deficits that prevent them from converting their desires and goals into choices and behaviour."

Using a control group research design, the researchers used a two-prong approach to reveal how and why schizophrenics fail to convert their preferences into congruent choices.

First, using a series of experiments involving choosing between different snack food rewards, experimenters revealed that:

  • schizophrenic subjects had a liking for snack foods equivalent to healthy adults
  • when researchers reduced the value of one of the snacks, both subjects and healthy adults subsequently preferred different snacks, as expected
  • surprisingly, schizophrenic subjects had major difficulty choosing their preferred snack when provided with a choice between their preferred snack and the devalued snack.

Second, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measures brain activity while study subjects performed learn
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Contact: Dan Gaffney
daniel.gaffney@sydney.edu.au
61-481-004-782
University of Sydney
Source:Eurekalert

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