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Distraction Spurs Abnormal Brain Activity in Schizophrenia

Patients have difficulty ignoring distraction when focusing on visual targets

FRIDAY, March 16 (HealthDay News) -- Patients with schizophrenia appear to have trouble focusing on visual targets when faced with distraction and activate different regions of their brain when distracted than control subjects, according to a report in the March issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Raquel Gur, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia, and colleagues applied the visual oddball paradigm with event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to 22 patients with schizophrenia and 28 comparison subjects. All subjects were asked to focus on a visual target but were presented with standard and distractor stimuli.

The investigators found that schizophrenia patients had diminished activation in superior temporal and frontal gyri, cingulate, thalamus and basal ganglia, but increased activation in right insula, midfrontal gyrus, posterior cingulate, and left inferior parietal lobule when presented with targets. Abnormal activation also occurred when the patients were presented with distractor stimuli.

"These results encourage further efforts to examine attentive and preattentive processing in schizophrenia with event-related fMRI," the authors write.

"The studies reaffirm to us the burden of illness that patients face in trying to approach even very simple tasks," writes Robert Freedman, M.D., in an accompanying editorial.

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