Schizotypy is a term used to describe personality traits that make one vulnerable to schizophrenic behavior. Although not everyone with schizotypy will develop psychosis or schizophrenia, there are some symptoms that people with schizotypy have that could indicate which individuals are most at risk. In a recent study, Nathan T. Smith of the Department of Psychology at State University of New York conducted stress-inducing noise experiments on a group of 29 schizotypy and 45 non-schizotypy participants. After the stress induction, the participants were given spatial working memory (SWM), visual memory, and visual attention tasks. Their performance was measured before the noise, following the stressor, and two follow-up times. Smith evaluated their stress response by taking their heart rates as well.
The results revealed that the schizotypic participants performed worse than the control participants on the majority of the tests taken during the noise condition. Specifically, the schizotypic participants did more poorly on the SWM tasks and had higher heart rates during the noise stressor. Their cognitive abilities declined significantly from those taken at baseline. However, during the non-noise conditions and during the non-SWM tasks, there was very little difference between the performance levels of the participants.
Smith believes that this study shows that loud noises can create elevated levels of stress for schizotypic individuals. This is especially concerning because not only are these individuals exposed to noises from communities like everyone else, but they also may undergo testing that induces stress, such as noisy MRIs. These tests that are designed to capture brain function images could actually be altering those very images. Smith believes that future work should explore how MRI tests affect SWM, especially since his study did not fully elucidate the process at work. “Thus, although it does appear that the loud noise eroded SWM among the schizotypic subjects, the mechanism through which this occurred is unclear,” he said. He added that it is critical to get a better understanding of this process, so that clinicians can identify people with schizotypy that might be at risk for psychosis as a result of stressors like loud noise.
Smith, N. T., and Lenzenweger, M. F. (2012). Increased stress responsivity in schizotypy leads to diminished spatial working memory performance. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/per0000014
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