October 23, 2007

Teaching Social Skills to People Who Have Schizophrenia

People who have schizophrenia tend to have significant difficulty accurately judging what is going on in social situations. One of the common problems is that they jump to negative conclusions with very little information. For example if a person smiles at them, they might assume that the person is trying to be nice so as to steal something from them (a very paranoid interpretation of the event). Or if a person doesn't return one phone call within a day or two, they might think the person doesn't like them (when in fact the person was just out of town and the correct interpretation was to wait and see). Research has also shown that these mis-interpretations can be reduced via social skills training - and that when these social skills are improved, the symptoms of schizophrenia tend to be reduced. Some researchers have also suggested that the social stress that is caused by these social skills deficits may even be a contributing factor to the onset of schizophrenia.

A new story out of The New Yorker magazine talks about how researchers at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are using video tapes of a TV program that uses similar types of mis-interpretations of social situations as a training tool for helping to teach people with schizophrenia better social skills. Clinical Psychology student David Roberts had noticed that patients were seeing some of the social errors in a TV program and recognized some of the issues.

So Roberts began showing TV clips during therapy sessions. Soon he had narrowed his selections down to one show: television’s purest expression of social dysfunction, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Roberts considers Larry David to be the perfect proxy for a schizophrenic person. ...Many [patients] showed a fluency in the kinds of social communication that Roberts had been struggling to teach them in therapy. “We watched a scene from ‘Monk’ where Tony Shalhoub won’t shake hands with anyone for fear of germs, and walks away awkwardly. I asked a man who’d been an inpatient for ten years, and who was generally blank, what had happened, and he shook his head and gave me a wry grin. Unspoken communication is huge for someone like that.””

Since that initial discovery, David Roberts and his U.N.C. adviser, David Penn, "began to formalize these findings, mapping out a teachable technique called Social Cognition and Interaction Training. They tested SCIT in four preliminary studies, and in post-training evaluations patients showed significant improvement in deciphering social situations.":

Read the full story: We Are All Larry David The New Yorker magazine

Additional Information:

The David Penn Psychology Lab at the University of Chapel Hill

Additional Reading:

Social Cognition and Schizophrenia


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