New Study Examines Eye and Head Movement in Schizophrenia

Oculomotor dysfunction and impairment is not uncommon in schizophrenia. In fact, rapid and abnormal eye movement is one of the markers for schizophrenia. Family members have also been shown to have abnormal eye movements, indicating a potential increased risk and genetic vulnerability to schizophrenia.

Individuals with schizophrenia can experience impairment not only in eye gaze and shifting, but also in peripheral information. These deficiencies can affect them in times of concentration as well as in everyday life, adding additional, often confusing, intellectual information to the cognitive data they already must process. Although these impairments have been well established, the extent of these impairments with regard to peripheral information is unclear.

Simon Schwab of the Department of Psychiatric Neurophysiology at the University Hospital of Psychiatry and the University of Bern in Switzerland recently led a study exploring how peripheral information processing differed between a group of individuals with and without schizophrenia and how this processing affected eye-head movement and coordination. For his study, Schwab enlisted 14 participants with schizophrenia and compared their results on several visual tasks to those of 14 individuals without schizophrenia.

Schwab found that the clinical participants had slower performance times on the tasks when compared to controls. Further, the clinical participants had increased numbers of eye-head shifts and eye-head offset movements when compared to controls. Head movements during the tasks averaged 18 for the participants with schizophrenia and only three for those without.

This suggests that the lack of peripheral processing and abnormal visual recognition of peripheral information common in schizophrenia could cause individuals to engage the head as a way of trying to capture all relevant cues. However, this same behavior was evident in a silent reading task. Therefore, it is possible that this eye-head shifting is just a feature of schizophrenia and unrelated to visual processing.

Schwab believes that perhaps some of these findings could be attributed to the cognitive deficiencies that are associated with schizophrenia. He added, “We hope that these results will stimulate further investigation of oculomotor impairments in more naturalistic settings in which both eye and head shifts are demanded.”

Reference:
Schwab, S., Würmle, O., Razavi, N., Müri, R.M., Altorfer, A. (2013). Eye-head coordination abnormalities in schizophrenia. PLoS ONE 8(9): e74845. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0074845

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