MCGILL (CAN) — By examining eye movements, researchers have found that people with schizophrenia read differently and with more difficulty.
The findings could lead to earlier detection and intervention for people with the illness.
While schizophrenia patients are known to have abnormalities in language and in eye movements, until recently reading ability was believed to be unaffected. That is because most previous studies examined reading in schizophrenia using single-word reading tests, the researchers conclude.
Such tests aren’t sensitive to problems in reading fluency, which is affected by the context in which words appear and by eye movements that shift attention from one word to the next.
The study, led by graduate student Veronica Whitford and psychology professors Debra Titone and Gillian A. O’Driscoll at McGill University, monitored how people move their eyes as they read simple sentences. The results, which were first published online last year, appear in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
Eye movement measures provide clear and objective indicators of how hard people are working as they read. For example, when struggling with a difficult sentence, people generally make smaller eye movements, spend more time looking at each word, and spend more time re-reading words. They also have more difficulty attending to upcoming words, so they plan their eye movements less efficiently.
The study, which involved 20 schizophrenia outpatients and 16 non-psychiatric participants, showed that reading patterns in people with schizophrenia differed in several important ways from healthy participants matched for gender, age, and family social status.
People with schizophrenia read more slowly, generated smaller eye movements, spent more time processing individual words, and spent more time re-reading. In addition, people with schizophrenia were less efficient at processing upcoming words to facilitate reading.
The researchers evaluated factors that could contribute to the problems in reading fluency among the schizophrenia outpatients—specifically, their ability to parse words into sound components and their ability to skillfully control eye movements in non-reading contexts. Both factors were found to contribute to the reading deficits.
“Our findings suggest that measures of reading difficulty, combined with other information such as family history, may help detect people in the early stages of schizophrenia—and thereby enable earlier intervention,” Whitford says.
Moreover, fluent reading is a crucial life skill, and in people with schizophrenia, there is a strong relationship between reading skill and the extent to which they can function independently, the researchers note.
“Improving reading through intervention in people with schizophrenia may be important to improving their ability to function in society,” Titone adds.
Other co-authors of the study are affiliated with the Montreal Neurological Institute and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute.
Source: McGill University