Researchers from CON AMORE establish a connection that may be a possible reason behind schizophrenia

12. March 2019

Post-doc Mélissa C. Allé and head of center Dorthe Berntsen, from the DNRF’s Center on Autobiographical Memory Research (CON AMORE) at Aarhus University, are behind a new study that establishes an important connection between hallucinations and involuntary autobiographical memories in individuals with psychotic-like experiences. The study was recently published in the scientific journal Psychiatry Research.

In a new study, published in Psychiatry Research, post-doc Mélissa C. Allé and head of center Dorthe Berntsen, from the Center of Excellence CON AMORE, together with research colleague Fabrice Berna from Strasbourg University Hospital, show that there is a connection between hallucinations and involuntary autobiographical memories in individuals with psychotic-like experiences. According to the researchers, the connection is due to an inability to place the psychotic-like experiences within a context. The connection is important for our fundamental understanding of involuntary memories and can be part of the explanation behind schizophrenia.

According to the study, people with psychotic-like experiences have more involuntary autobiographical memories and future projection than other people, and the memories often have hallucinatory characteristics, usually caused by traumatic experiences.  The study follows up on a previous assumption that one of the reasons people with schizophrenia experience hallucinations and inner voices is that they lack the ability to contextualize these involuntary autobiographical memories.

“There is solid proof that psychotic experiences and hallucinations are not a matter of all or nothing but exist in variable proportions among the public. Most of us experience involuntary autobiographical memories that pop up in our mind and disappear right away, on a daily basis. Our study shows that the difference between those who have a high and those with a low frequency of involuntary autobiographical memories is that the ones in the higher end of the spectrum experience less control of their content of consciousness,” said Professor Berntsen, head of center at CON AMORE and senior author of the study.

The research result is based on data collected online. The researchers asked 44 healthy individuals a series of questions and compared the ones who had a low score with the ones who had a high score on a scale for psychotic experiences. With the data collection, the researchers tried to have a better understanding of where hallucinations and illusions come from. With an improved understanding, Professor Berntsen and the rest of the research team wish to create a more qualified framework for the development of potential new treatment methods for individuals with schizophrenia.

“if we, for example, can see that hallucinations and illusions are mechanisms that we all live with, but that is more extreme in others, in the future, it might help us to figure out how to treat people with schizophrenia the best way,” said Professor Berntsen.

In a continuation of the study, the researchers are now examining a group of test persons who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and the results are expected in 2020.

 

Find the scientific article in Psychiatry Research here

Read more about the study here (in Danish)