Harvard Reserach Study on Early Psychosis Looking for Participants


by Sarah Hope Lincoln

Schizophrenia is a disorder that causes significant impairments in independent functioning. While many may associate the disorder with its ‘positive’ symptoms like delusions and hallucinations, there are many ‘negative’ symptoms as well – social and emotional deficits, as well as a loss of pleasure and motivation. The expression and persistence of these negative symptoms may be stronger predictors of poor functioning and independence as the illness takes its course. Because of this, some researchers are beginning to focus on understanding and developing interventions for these negative impairments before individuals experience a first episode of psychosis.

Several studies (Jones et al., 1994; Neindam, 2003) have shown that individuals who develop schizophrenia show nonspecific precursors to the illness, such as social problems, misreading social cues, and difficulty with relationships. Some of these children can be considered to be at risk for schizophrenia and related disorders, although many will not develop the illness.

By understanding what is going on in the social brain of children who are at clinical high risk, researchers hope to eventually develop targeted skills training that may improve a person’s long-term functioning and possibly prevent the disorder altogether.

One of these research groups is the Social Neuroscience and Psychopathology lab at Harvard University. They investigate the neural underpinnings of social functioning and deficits in different populations, and are currently exploring how the brain processes social situations, and how this relates to children’s relationships and their experiences of the world around them. They are currently seeking participants 8-13 years old who may have had any of the following experiences:

–          Feeling worried that people may be reading his or her mind

–          Worrying about being watched or feeling mistrustful of people

–          Hearing or seeing things that others do not hear

–          Isolating from peers, friends or family

–          Performing worse in school

–          Reporting unusual ideas that are hard to follow or understand.

*As these symptoms may be confusing for the child or parent, helpful referrals can be provided as needed.

This is a two-part study that involves a behavioral session that includes questionnaires and interviews with a researcher, as well as a one-hour long brain scan during which your child will be asked to do simple tasks. Throughout the study, the Social Neuroscience and Psychopathology lab makes every effort to ensure the child is safe and comfortable participating in the research. For many children, the experience can be both fun and interesting. All travel costs to and from Boston will be covered, and the child and family will be compensated for each part of the study, possibly up to $110 gift cards for the child and $110 for the family.

To learn more about participating, contact Sarah Hope Lincoln at 559-904-4431 or email childsocialstudy@gmail.com

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