Understanding Sensory Flooding in Schizophrenia

GoodTherapy | Understanding Sensory Flooding in SchizophreniaThere are several unique symptoms that occur in psychosis and schizophrenia. People with these psychological problems often report being hypersensitive to sounds and scenes. Their cognitive resources become distracted and aroused by seemingly mundane background noise and they have difficulty focusing on visual cues and performing relatively easy cognitive tasks as a result. This aspect of schizophrenia has just now begun to be explored in depth. In an effort to extend the existing research, Jason Smucny of the Neuroscience Program at the University of Colorado recently conducted a study measuring the neurological processes that occur during an easy and difficult task among 21 participants with schizophrenia and 23 with no history of psychosis.

All of the participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) while they performed both easy and difficult tasks that required varying degrees of visual and cognitive attention. While they were completing their tasks, the participants were also exposed to what would be considered normal urban sounds, such as the sound of a train or cars on the streets. The results revealed that the participants with schizophrenia had increased neural activation in specific brain regions that impaired their ability to focus on even the easy tasks. They performed far worse on both sets of tasks than the participants without psychosis. Additionally, the schizophrenic group had slower reaction times as a direct result of the auditory distraction.

Sensory overload, such as the kind evidenced in this study, can have a significant impact on the global functioning and quality of life for people with schizophrenia. They may be unable to perform normal activities, especially in social environments, such as reading street signs, following directions, or communicating with others. These deficits can encroach on other domains required to function at optimal levels, further impairing quality of life. Smucny said, “This work is the first to demonstrate that previously reported auditory processing abnormalities may be associated with neural response changes during cross-modal, visual attention tasks in schizophrenia.” Future work should examine ways to minimize auditory distractions that occur in psychosis and schizophrenia.

Smucny J, Rojas DC, Eichman LC, Tregellas JR (2013). Neural effects of auditory distraction on visual attention in schizophrenia. PLoS ONE 8(4): e60606. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0060606

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  • Leave a Comment

    April 16th, 2013 at 10:24 PM

    So its almost as if their sense organs are acting involuntarily and they do not have total control over them!! Man! that sounds bad. Can these folks be trained not to be too sensitive to such noise or other senses? That would certainly help their cause. No just to be able to do tasks effectively but also to get some rest from the barrage of senses flooding them!

  • Lyle

    April 17th, 2013 at 3:46 AM

    This information should help anyone who has to deal with this in a friend or family member be a little more accepting and understanding of the amount of information that they feel like is coming at them at one time and why this feels overwhelming. It is clear that those with this illness can’t just tune it all out, and that to them this is something that is very real and distracting, and could play a Huge role in why they often have a difficult time staying within mainstream society.

  • an

    April 17th, 2013 at 10:23 PM

    I have this problem.It’s horrible and I can’t leave the house ever because of it.I can’t tune it out & I don’t believe it’s terminable because it isn’t that the mind is extra sensitive/giving extra attention to normal sound but rather it’s that the brain part that processes sound has been damaged itself so the “filter” is no longer there & all noises have become super loud,distorted in sound too & unbearable. I wasn’t born this way.Img started having shaking sensations in my head & then something would destroy & all of a sudden the whole world would change & sounds would become huge & visually things seemed different too.I truly believe that an autoimmune/toxic process has caused that shaking in my brain & destroyed receptors in my auditory cortex.The autoimmune theory of Schizophrenia is only researched a little but (studies finding nmdar antibodies) in some people with Schizophrenia and most of the public & many psychiatrists don’t know about the autoimmune connection.
    The immune system attacking the brain,I believe further research will find,is a cause for at least a subtype of Schizophrenia.

  • an

    April 17th, 2013 at 10:28 PM

    Sorry for all the typos.The word terminable should actually days retrainable.

  • Korn

    February 7th, 2014 at 2:46 AM

    The hypersensitivity and distractibility of schizophrenic patients is due to the fact that they are unable to fixate the target selected by their attention.

  • oscar

    November 28th, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    It sounds very similar to add and the awkward body movements could be from growing into adult hood. I believe the conditioning of women towards men probably harms these people more because there’s links to autism anyways i don’t want to de rail from my real point. It sounds like they need to learn to handle the information overload. They maybe people that were used to watch over a tribe during night. I’m not too sure because i havent looked into it but sensory overload effects normal people too. sometimes they goof up and act irrationally or try and play it off . its only natural defenses. I’m inferring that since there is so much information the brain freezes other functions in order to process the sensory information.

  • moshtaba

    March 22nd, 2017 at 5:56 AM

    I have diagnosed with schizophrenia. no problem with noises except when I need to concentrate on my job. I think most of the people with schizophrenia experiencing some sort of kundalini activity. I hope in the future when human discovered subtle organs that have not discovered yet we could overcome schizophrenia, bipolar, depression and so on.

  • Chandresh

    March 30th, 2017 at 4:40 PM

    Yes I would agree that kundalini and schizophrenia may be closely related.

  • nadia

    June 14th, 2018 at 2:08 PM

    Its true that schizophrenics are more sensitive to the emotions around them,so if they hear background noise aswell it can be too much. However since the science is psychiatry is not good,what I mean is there are no tests for any mental socalled illness,its more economics and politics and labelling people.In how far do we know that its not the drugs causing this overstimulation,as its been proven neuroleptics shrink the brain and change brain structure. Nancy Andreason did a study on this,but my opinion is that she was silent about the immense damage for years because I assume she was dependant on the money to pay for her family.Other studies besides hers also exist on a smaller scale.The shrinkage and damage from the neuroleptics actually causes the symptoms of schizophrenia which is a gross injustice to those with the labels.

  • CK

    February 21st, 2020 at 7:57 AM

    If the auditory distractions are from external sources (vs auditory hallucinations), why not just pop on some noise cancelling headphones to eliminate the distraction?

  • Charles

    April 4th, 2020 at 9:26 AM

    Due to things like hyperacusis being treated by sound, and the idea that limitation of offending noise can simply reinforce the issue. Additionally regardless what diagnosis you are labeled with it’s likely only partially accurate but may not explain all. Misery of the mind loves company.

  • Eric

    July 18th, 2020 at 5:09 PM

    This is sometimes referred to as a lack of pre-pulse inhibition. This refers to a test that is done, but basically means that people with these genes, you don’t actually have to be schizophrenic, can’t block out extraneous sensory input.

  • Bob

    October 25th, 2020 at 2:17 PM

    Perhaps hyperacusis is directly related to an individual’s deep awakening in a spiritual sense, call it Kundalini if you will. To make a correlation w/ schizophrenia might be to imply a misunderstanding of the wondrous transformation that occurs in both a physical and mental sense of such an awakening.
    My experiences with hyperacusis over the last 10 years leads me to believe a heightening of any of our senses is possible if not directly related to this transformation. Awareness thru mindful practice and the extraordinary partnership with life itself is my prize for hyperacusis.
    Surprisingly, we can adapt, adjust and live life with such a frightening affliction.

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