How an individual perceives time affects how they plan for a particular action and what behaviors and steps they will take to complete that action. Research on time deficits and impairments in time perception has suggested that people with mental illness and psychosis may have a disrupted and distorted sense of time.
In particular, the research on schizophrenia has proposed that time processing deficits can lead to confusion, hallucinations, and delusions. The existing data on time processing and schizophrenia points to a disrupted internal clock which causes individuals to overestimate and underestimate time in certain tasks. However, to date there is little evidence linking symptom severity and time alteration in people with schizophrenia.
To add to the existing literature on time processing impairments and to further explore how symptoms severity may impact any time deficits, Jutta Peterburs of the Institute of Medical Psychology Systems Neuroscience at the University of Muenster in Germany recently led a study involving 22 individuals with schizophrenia and 22 without. The participants were instructed to estimate the time it would take for certain stimuli to reach targets. The tasks were designed to be of varying levels of cognitive demand so that Peterburs could determine if cognitive load was a factor in time processing impairment.
The results revealed that the participants with schizophrenia underestimated the time it would take for the stimuli to reach the targets. Those with more severe symptoms had the highest level of time processing impairment, especially on the most cognitively demanding tests. Peterburs believes that these findings clearly demonstrate a link between symptom severity and both predictive and anticipatory time perception in schizophrenia. This deficit is further exacerbated by symptom severity and difficulty of task.
Other factors may influence these findings, such as medication, age, gender, and length of illness. However, Peterburs did not isolate any of those factors. Future studies will have to investigate to what extent temporal processing in schizophrenia is modulated by antipsychotic medication,” added Peterburs. More specifically, future work should look at how antipsychotic medication influences the internal clock and dopaminergic dysregulation, a process that influences time perception. Until then, the findings presented here offer more support for impairment in time processing that could have a cause and effect influence on symptoms of schizophrenia.
Peterburs, J., Nitsch, A.M., Miltner, W.H.R., Straube, T. (2013). Impaired representation of time in schizophrenia is linked to positive symptoms and cognitive demand. PLoS ONE 8(6): e67615. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067615
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