Why do people with schizophrenia misinterpret social cues?

A new study from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London sheds light on why people with schizophrenia misinterpret social cues in others, often leading to unpleasant paranoid and persecutory thoughts.

Insights from this research, published in Psychological Medicine, could help develop psychological interventions to assist people with schizophrenia to interpret social cues, which might also improve their symptoms.

The researchers studied the behaviour of 54 participants, including 29 people with schizophrenia, as they viewed the body position and gestures of an actor on a silent video clip. These included gestures such as putting a finger to the lips to indicate ‘be quiet’ or incidental movements such as scratching an eye.

They found that patients with schizophrenia are able to interpret meaningful gestures and incidental movements as accurately as healthy subjects. However, when the direction of the gestures was ambiguous (i.e. not obviously directed at or away from them), they were much more likely to misinterpret the gestures as being directed towards them.

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So the culprit is ideas of reference?

I grew up in an alcoholic family. The family was terribly stressed. I thought the problems in the family were my fault. Curiously, my sister also thought the problems were her fault. Well, after all, my Dad would often scream, “You kids are killing your Mother.”