A new multi-site brain imaging study in The American Journal of Psychiatry shows that sub-groups of people use their brains differently when imitating emotional faces — a task that reflects their ability to interact socially. Interestingly, individuals with schizophrenia do not have categorically different social brain function than those without mental illness, but fall into different sub-groups that may respond to different types of treatments. These findings call into question the most common research approaches in mental health.
“We know that, on average, people with schizophrenia have more social impairment than people in the general population,” says senior author Dr. Aristotle Voineskos in the Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. “But we needed to take an agnostic approach and let the data tell us what the brain-behavioural profiles of our study participants looked like. It turned out that the relationship between brain function and social behaviour had nothing to do with conventional diagnostic categories in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).”