Visual and auditory impairments are common traits of schizophrenia. Individuals with schizophrenia often experience language problems that can lead to hallucinations and distorted thinking. Another common issue that people with schizophrenia face is the inability to accurately process written words. The way in which people process words and comprehend written material is essential to overall quality of life. People with literacy challenges have more problems communicating with others and are less able to maintain daily activities and keep gainful employment. Because both visual and language skills are necessary to maintaining a stable quality of life, it is imperative to understand how deficits in these areas interact in individuals at risk for schizophrenia.
To explore the relationship between visual and speech processing, Veronica Whitford of the Department of Psychology at McGill University in Montreal conducted a study on 36 individuals, 20 of whom had a history of schizophrenia. Using several tests, Whitford assessed the participants’ eye movements, executive processing functions and comprehension. She found that the participants with schizophrenia had higher levels of eye movement than the controls, which led to more reading challenges and slower reading. These individuals exhibited difficulties in comprehension and had problems converting the written words into phonetically correct speech.
Whitford discovered that the participants with schizophrenia had impairments in key reading functions that were above and beyond those found in the participants without schizophrenia. She also noticed that these deficits were similar to those in individuals with dyslexia. She believes that further exploration of neurological development in people with dyslexia and people with schizophrenia could provide additional insight into links and possible interventions. Whitford added, “If true, reading measures, in combination with other information such as family history, might be used to better identify people in the early stages of the illness and thus allow for better targeting of early interventions.” Whitford noted that regardless of mental health, every individual should be afforded the opportunity to enhance their reading and comprehension skills in order to improve their quality of life. The findings of this study may very well be the first step on the path toward that end for people with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.
Whitford, V., O’Driscoll, G. A., Pack, C. C., Joober, R., Malla, A., Titone, D. (2012). Reading impairments in schizophrenia relate to individual differences in phonological processing and oculomotor control: Evidence from a gaze-contingent moving window paradigm. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028062
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