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Schizophrenia and body ownership


A study using the rubber hand illusion (RHI) has revealed new evidence that schizophrenics have a weakened sense of body ownership. It may be that movement therapy, which trains people to focus on their bodies and includes yoga and dance, could be helpful for the over 2 million people who suffer from schizophrenia.

The study measured the strength of body ownership in 24 schizophrenic patients and 21 control subjects using the RHI. This illusion is induced by simultaneously stroking a visible rubber hand and the subject’s hidden hand. “After a while, patients with schizophrenia begin to ‘feel’ the rubber hand and disown their own hand. They also experience their real hand as closer to the rubber hand,” said Sohee Park, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair of Psychology and Psychiatry who conducted the study with colleagues. “Healthy people get this illusion too, but weakly. Some don’t get it at all, and there is a wide range of individual differences in how people experience this illusion that is related to a personality trait called schizotypy, associated with psychosis-proneness.”

Body ownership is an important part of having a sense of self. Finding that schizophrenia patients are more susceptible to the rubber hand illusion could mean that they have a more flexible body representation and weakened sense of self compared to others. These findings could help explain the results of a German study in 2008 which found that a 12-week exercise program reduced symptoms in patients with chronic schizophrenia. “Exercise is inexpensive and obviously has a broad range of beneficial effects, so it if can also reduce the severity of schizophrenia, it is all to the good,” said Park.

Source: Public Library of Science One, ScienceDaily

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