Monkey See, Monkey Do

Keeping in theme with Eden Express’ subject of schizophrenia, a recent article covers new techniques in brain mapping meant to further our understanding of how the disorder works. Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of schizophrenia is the fact that so much of how it works is simply unknown. In actuality, schizophrenia covers a wide spectrum of neurological and behavioral conditions that can arise from a number of reasons. 

What a team of neuroscientists at Vanderbilt University sought to do was flesh out a more detailed picture of the brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging technology. In their studies, they tested a group of sixteen schizophrenics against a group of sixteen healthy individuals. The groups were tasked with watching a video in which a simple motor action was performed. The results from the study indicated that schizophrenic patients exhibited significantly less activity in regions associated with the simple motor action.

One of the take-aways from this research was that the results could help account for the some of the interpersonal deficiencies typical of schizophrenic patients. If afflicted subjects express difficulty on a neurological level with empathy, this could account for their outward behavior. The director of the study, Sohee Park, expressed: “The mirror neuron system raises the question of agency. If the same group of neurons fire when I am writing and when I watch you writing, how do I know who is doing the writing? But we are almost always certain of who is doing what. Our research implicates the role of this network in individuals with schizophrenia who frequently have serious problems determining agency.”

So what can be done about this? The article raises an interesting point about the ineffectiveness of medication. On a purely chemical level, antipsychotic medication works by way of a shotgun tactic. It encompasses the entirety of the brain and hopes to simply cover enough of the afflicted neural circuitry. However, the article mentions an interesting alternative: utilizing the brain’s natural plasticity. We are already aware of the brain’s amazing capacity to evolve and adapt to respond to a number of scenarios, be it stress, trauma, or even learning. Taking advantage of neuroplasticity it would theoretically be possible to fix the damage done to the brain and reshape it to its normal state. At this point in time, the process is merely conceptual. That said, it is still very much an option worth exploring.


Link to the article:

One thought on “Monkey See, Monkey Do

  1. This is a really great article. The inability to sense agency could account for many other schizophrenic symptoms such as delusions and dissociative thinking, so it is interesting to see this related to our ability to imitate. I was especially interested when they mentioned hopes of rewiring the brain “from the bottom up.” What do they mean by this? This could potentially have many implications, some of them ethical. What would it mean if we essentially had the ability to rebuild the brain? How would personality, for example, be affected by such rewiring? It will be interesting to see where this research goes, as well as to watch the development of technology. The technology being used in this very research — the fMRI — is fascinating enough, so I can only imagine what the future holds. Hopefully it will bring a better understanding of schizophrenia and give rise to more effective treatments.


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