Study shows childhood development factors may correlate to schizophrenia

Schizophrenia Update, October 2003

(University of Southern California DailyTrojan)

Contributing Writer

Children with better nutrition, regulated exercise and a more nurturing educational experience are less likely to develop schizotypal personality disorder, a disorder that marks the stage before schizophrenia, according to a 20-year study led by a USC professor.

The study, conducted by Adrian Raine, a professor of psychology and neuroscience, was the first ever to research how to prevent the disorder rather than just treat it. The results were published in the September issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry.

"I've had some cases of mental illness in my family," said Sarnoff A. Mednick, director of the social science research institute and a professor in psychology. "Schizophrenia is a major problem in the world. We started this study 20 years ago to determine earlier characteristics of this disorder so that we could prevent it from happening to people."

Mednick and Peter Venables, another professor, started the research study in 1972. Raine took over the project in 1987 because he was interested in narrowing down the research and testing specific components as causes of the disorder.

In the study, a group of 438 children from the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, ranging in ages three to five, were volunteered to participate in the study.

"Mauritius is the ideal location because of its geographical and social advantage," Raine said. "Very few people come and leave from Mauritius, which is good for our research purposes. Imagine keeping track of 400 3-year-olds in Los Angeles, and try to see where they are a decade or two later. It would be impossible."

The children were randomly divided into two groups: 83 children were assigned to be in the environmental-enriched group, while 355 children were designated the control group.

For two years, the environmental-enriched group received better nutrition, regulated exercise and a more nurturing educational experience. The group was given regular hot meals consisting of fish, mutton or chicken, a green salad, and milk. The control group ate the typical island meal of bread and rice.

The environmental-enriched group exercised for two and a half hours, while the control group did not have exercise as a part of their school life besides regular free play.

The type of education received by the two groups also differed greatly. The tested group had an emphasis on verbal skills, building a stronger memory, concepts of love and basic behavior of society.

After two years, both groups were released to function in normal societal life. The groups were evaluated when they reached ages 17 and 23 to compare the criminal and social records.

At age 17, the enriched group had a 32 percent reduction of schizotypal personality traits and a 28 percent reduction in anti-social behavior problems compared to the control group. At age 23, the enriched group had a 35 percent reduction of schizotypal behavior and a 64 percent reduction in anti-social behavior.

"The experiment needs to be replicated in other areas around the world in order for us to absolutely determine whether schizophrenia stems from environmental factors," Raine said. "We haven't solved it, but now we have insight. The research suggests that schizophrenia has its origins early in life and is due to proper nutrition, exercise and a nurturing education environment."

The World Health Organization (WHO), the United States National Institute of Health and the Mauritius government funded the study.

WHO was interested in researching child development in a developing country, Raine said.

"Only 1 percent of the population has schizophrenia. What is more common, however, is schizotypal personality disorder, which the study is based on," Raine said. "Schizotypal personality disorder is the preliminary stage of schizophrenia, and about 5 percent of the population has traits of a schizotypal personality. "

There are nine traits of a schizotypal personality; a person who possesses five out of these nine traits is diagnosed as schizophrenic, Raine said.

People who are schizophrenic may see an accident and strongly believe that they somehow caused it. They may have odd beliefs in things such as UFOs, tarot cards or their sixth sense.

Schizophrenics tend to lack close friends, have an eccentric appearance and have blunted emotional expression.

Other characteristics of schizophrenics include people who believe they have perceptual experiences, odd thinking and speech patterns, strong paranoia and excessive anxiousness.

"My friend's mom was schizophrenic. She used to check her backyard constantly for people parachuting onto her property," said Daniel Kilpatrick, a junior majoring in psychology.

"When my friend's family went to Hawaii, she wouldn't leave the hotel room for two weeks because she was reading death threats and license plates."

Although cases of schizophrenia in the population are rare, the disorder affects society in other ways.

"USC students should be aware of schizophrenia because statistics show that most people become schizophrenic between the ages of 18 to 21," Raine said.

"As young adults on the verge of developing families of their own, it would be vital for them to know how schizophrenia may be prevented if they decide to have children."





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