Schizophrenia: Delusion without illusion
24 October 2005
Scientists have discovered that schizophrenia sufferers are not fooled by a visual illusion and are able to judge it more accurately than non-schizophrenic observers.
The study, published in the journal Current Biology, used an illusion where an object's contrast appears reduced by its surroundings. A medium-contrast patterned disc was shown to volunteers, who had to judge its appearance in the presence of a high-contrast background. Of the 15 participants with chronic schizophrenia, 12 were found to make more accurate judgments than the most accurate person in a control group of 33 non-schizophrenic volunteers.
Dr Steven Dakin, of the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, says: "We often think of people with schizophrenia as not seeing the world the way it really is - for example, during hallucinations - but we have shown that sometimes their vision can be more accurate than non-sufferers.
"The trick here was to use an illusion where a failure to use context worked to the advantage of people with schizophrenia. This was critical because people can perform poorly for lots of reasons, but superior performance tends to be for a specific reason and is more revealing of the underlying cause.
"Our findings may shed some light on the brain mechanisms involved in schizophrenia. Normally, contextual processes in the brain help us to focus on what's relevant and stop our brains being overwhelmed with information. This process seems to be less effective in the schizophrenic brain, possibly due to insufficient inhibition - that is, the process by which cells in the brain switch each other off."
Notes for Editors:
1. For more information or to set up an interview, please contact Jenny Gimpel at the UCL Media Relations Office on +44 (0)20 7679 9739, Mobile +44 (0)7990 675 947, Out of Hours: +44 (0)7917 271364 or e-mail email@example.com.
2. 'Weak suppression of visual context in chronic schizophrenia', by Steve Dakin, Patricia Carlin and David Hemsley, is published in Current Biology on the 25th October 2005. To obtain copies of the paper please contact Heidi Hardman on firstname.lastname@example.org or tel: +1 617 397 2879.
3. Images of a visual illusion are available from the UCL Media Relations Office.