March 17, 2007

Connection Between Schizophrenia and Not Understanding Emotional Tone of Speech

Some people with schizophrenia have a problem holding conversations. A theory as to one possible source of this problem, presented in the American Journal of Psychiatry, lies in their difficulty in discerning between fluctuating pitches of a voice, and thus, in understanding the emotional meaning people impart to their words.

Both U.S. News and CNN have articles discussing this subject, with the U.S. News explaining that schizophrenia

"appears to cause disconnections between nerve cells in the auditory regions of the brain, which prevents the brain from discerning changes in pitch like the deepening of a voice expressing frustration."
CNN points out that even years before diagnosis of schizophrenia is made, patients "showed poor social skills early on".

This lack of being able to discern what emotion a person is conveying by their tone of voice, plus a problem reading facial expressions (revealed in other studies) compound an inability to read social cues.

This problem distinguishing between tones was seen both in musical tones as well as in voice tones. MRI scans verified that the patients with the most difficulty detecting changes in tone had the biggest deficit in connections between auditory nerve cells.

Other research is needed to determine if training in music would help minimize this problem and how speaking languages such as Chinese or Vietnamese, in which tone is even more important than it is in English, affects patients with schizophrenia.

One researcher, Daniel Javitt, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at New York University School of Medicine advises caregivers to improve communication with patients by using the knowledge that some patients might not be able to discern the emotional meaning of voice tone. He admonsihes caregivers to not use sarcasm.

"Tell them explicitly how you're feeling rather then having them rely on your tone of voice."

Read the full articles: Schizophrenia may block key speech tones (CNN)
Why Schizophrenics Have Trouble Conversing: Many have no way of knowing whether the person they're talking to is pleased or annoyed (U.S. News)

Original Source: The Neural Substrates of Impaired Prosodic Detection in Schizophrenia and Its Sensorial Antecedents

Related Reading:
Early Cognitive Enhancement Therapy May Improve Emotional Intelligence in Schizophrenia
Social Intelligence More Useful Than IQ? Important for Mental Health
Facial recognition and social function
Schizophrenia and Emotional Intelligence (Social Cognition)
Social cognition and face processing in schizophrenia
Schizophrenia linked to limited understanding of body language
Study: Brain out of Sync


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