Schizophrenics have 30 seconds to make an impression, study finds

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When encountering someone with schizophrenia for the first time, most people relate to these individuals differently - even when they're unaware of the condition, new research shows.

Using motion capture technology to study social interactions between schizophrenic patients in a group setting, researchers from Queen Mary University in London found that people with the mental health condition are often "sidelined" in conversations.

"This is the first time motion capture techniques have been applied to clinical populations to analyze how people relate to each other, and the complex social barriers faced by some people with mental health problems," said co-author Professor Pat Healey, head of Cognitive Science Research Group, which is part of the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science.

Nonverbal communication key

Each participant in the study wore clothing that had reflective markers, which were tracked in 3D by infrared cameras, the researchers explained. The equipment allowed the team to track very precise non-verbal communication in live interactions.

The study showed that people with schizophrenia acted more withdrawn in social settings and were less likely to be spoken to in the opening moments of a conversation. Specifically, they had about 30 seconds to make an impression before they were then related to differently.

Overcoming social difficulties

Social stigma associated with schizophrenia can be one of the most difficult aspects of the condition, the researchers said, and it has been associated with poorer mental health outcomes.

Schizophrenics who have a strong social network of friends and family, on the other hand, are more likely to cope with their illness better.

Co-author Professor Rose McCabe, from the University of Exeter Medical School, concluded: "The research could be critical in supporting patients with schizophrenia because we know that those who have good interpersonal relationships have much better health outcomes, and it will help us take the next steps toward improving outcomes and reducing social exclusion."

The research is published in the journal PLoS One.

Source: Queen Mary, University of London
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /"