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New Study Examines Shifting Mental States in Families with Psychosis


Cognitive impairment and specific neural deficits have been shown to be present in people with various forms of psychosis, including schizophrenia. However, until now, few studies have looked specifically at how these impairment and deficits translate to on a moment-to-moment basis. In other words, how do these variances affect behavior and mental states throughout the daily life of people with psychosis? Johanna T. W. Wigman of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at the Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands wanted to find out the answer to this question and also to explore how these manifestations of cognitive deficits emerged in family members of individuals with psychosis because there is an abundant amount of evidence showing a high genetic risk for psychosis.

In a recent study, Wigman employed the experience sampling method (ESM) to assess fluctuations in mental states in a sample of 57 individuals with psychosis, 59 of their siblings without psychosis and a random selection of twins (579) from the general population. The ESM allows participants to input their moods in an electronic device in real time. Wigman evaluated how stressful events, social interaction, affect, and other factors impacted the mental states of all the participants over a period of six days. She found that twins who had symptoms of schizotypy were more likely to have emotional fluctuations than those with no symptoms. However, the largest changes in mood were found in the participants with psychosis. Their siblings had some mood fluctuations and the control participants had the lowest levels of mood fluctuation.

In the twin sample and the participants with psychosis, predictors of mental state variances were minor life stressors, low positive affect, and high negative affect. “In addition, altered transfer of momentary anomalous experience was predicted by more exposure to childhood trauma in twins,” said Wigman. She added that although it has been shown that environment, genetics, and cognitive factors are all associated with symptoms of psychosis, her research is the first to demonstrate how these factors work in concert to affect the persistence of mood fluctuations based on daily experiences in psychotic individuals. She believes that the findings of her study support theories that suggest the transfer of momentary mental states is a common theme in the psychosis spectrum of illnesses.

Wigman, J.T.W., Collip, D., Wichers, M., Delespaul, P., Derom, C., et al. (2013). Altered transfer of momentary mental states (ATOMS) as the basic unit of psychosis liability in interaction with environment and emotions. PLoS ONE 8(2): e54653. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054653

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  • taylor t May 8th, 2013 at 11:58 AM #1

    If I knew that I had a family member with psychotic tendencies, knowing that this tends to be gentically related, I think that I would always be so scared thinking that I could be next to become ill. I think that this is something that I would always have to worry about.

  • H B May 8th, 2013 at 9:52 PM #2

    Not possible to have consistent moods throughout,say, a day but it is always desirable to not have sudden mood shift.I hate that.

    And with psychosis I guess that is exactly what happens.Sudden shift in moods is not only undesirable but could also confuse the person himself.How is he even supposed to react or cope with it?I think this would take a big toll on the person mentally.

  • Judith May 9th, 2013 at 4:00 AM #3

    For me, the most important point that hits home is the fact that mental illness, just like anything else, is always fluid. It is not black and white like we would tend to prefer- rather, there can be some gray areas, some fluidity, and since this is apparent we have to be willing to see those fluctuations and willing to address them when they arise. I wish that it would be as simple as identifying the problem and then treating it within common treatment standards. But there will always be those times when this approach would not work and one has to utilize other resources to address the ever changing dynamic of so many of the diseases and disorders that we are talking about.

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