Memory of social interactions impaired in all phases of schizophrenia

July 12, 2017, University of California, Los Angeles
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and other brain imaging technologies allow for the study of differences in brain activity in people diagnosed with schizophrenia. The image shows two levels of the brain, with areas that were more active in healthy controls than in schizophrenia patients shown in orange, during an fMRI study of working memory. Credit: Kim J, Matthews NL, Park S./PLoS One.

People with schizophrenia have trouble remembering the details of social interactions in all phases of the illness, researchers report. However, in the early stages of schizophrenia, patients can remember more about these interactions if given hints about context. This finding suggests a potential strategy for memory training.

Episodic memory is the way we remember life events, big and small. What did I have for lunch? Where do I know that person from? It's key for social functioning: Poor , a common feature of schizophrenia, limits the ability to form relationships with others.

Researchers wanted to see if social, episodic memory worsens over the course of the illness. They recruited three groups: people at high risk for , people who had one episode of psychosis and people with chronic schizophrenia. Without telling their subjects they were taking part in a memory test, researchers showed the participants 24 film clips, depicting friends talking, a car mechanic speaking to a customer and other ordinary scenes. Participants then viewed photographs of 24 people featured in the film clips, and photos of 24 people who were not. Researchers asked which faces just seemed familiar and which faces elicited detailed memories about the specific situations depicted in the film clips.

All three groups were able to identify faces from the film clips, but all demonstrated poor episodic memory in their ability to recall the social situations that matched the faces.

In the second phase of the study, showed pictures again and asked the participants to select which of four sentences described the situation in which the face appeared. The participants who were at risk for developing schizophrenia had no trouble with this task; those who had experienced an episode of psychosis or who had showed impairment.

Researchers said the study provides several insights:

1. The difference among groups in the sentence-selection task indicates that a subtle change in occurs with the onset of psychosis; once the illness starts, the picture cues aren't helpful.

2. Awareness of the importance of providing context as a way to improve social memory in the earliest phase of schizophrenia could be important for family members and caregivers.

3. Impaired social episodic memory may be an early symptom of .

Explore further: Exercise can tackle symptoms of schizophrenia

More information: Junghee Lee et al. Episodic Memory for Dynamic Social Interaction Across Phase of Illness in Schizophrenia, Schizophrenia Bulletin (2017). DOI: 10.1093/schbul/sbx081

Related Stories

Exercise can tackle symptoms of schizophrenia

August 12, 2016
Aerobic exercise can significantly help people coping with the long-term mental health condition schizophrenia, according to a new study from University of Manchester researchers.

Study shows self-evaluation influences facial memory

March 30, 2017
Can you remember someone you met for the first time? Was there something in particular about them that caught your eye?

Study shows biological changes that could underlie higher psychosis risk in immigrants

January 10, 2017
A new study could explain how migrating to another country increases a person's risk of developing schizophrenia, by altering brain chemistry.

Neurocognitive deficits may be a red flag for psychosis

November 2, 2016
While schizophrenia is best known for episodes of psychosis - a break with reality during which an individual may experience delusions and hallucinations - it is also marked by chronic neurocognitive deficits, such as problems ...

Link between antibodies and schizophrenia may offer hope for a cure in some patients

December 8, 2016
For the first time specific antibodies have been found to be associated with the onset of schizophrenia. A study published in The Lancet Psychiatry, reveals that certain kinds of antibodies appear in the blood of a significant ...

Recommended for you

Analyzing past failures may boost future performance by reducing stress

March 23, 2018
Insights from past failures can help boost performance on a new task—and a new study is the first to explain why. US researchers report that writing critically about past setbacks leads to lower levels of the "stress" hormone, ...

Researcher unlocking relationship between early math ability, fingers

March 23, 2018
Ask toddlers how old they are, and they are likely to hold up the corresponding number of fingers and say, "this many."

How reciprocity can magnify inequality

March 22, 2018
People tend to reciprocate others' actions in ways that increase disparities in wealth, according to findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Building tolerance to anxiety is key to OCD symptom relief

March 22, 2018
Excessive hand washing, out of a fear of contamination or germs, is one of the most common and best-known examples of obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. Though OCD can't be "cured," symptoms can be significantly reduced ...

Stopping exercise can increase symptoms of depression

March 22, 2018
Stopping exercise can result in increased depressive symptoms, according to new mental health research from the University of Adelaide.

Antioxidants and amino acids could play role in the treatment of psychosis

March 22, 2018
A scientific paper has revealed that some nutrients found in food may help reduce the symptoms of psychotic illness, when used in the early stages of treatment.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.