Research Hopes to Find Better Understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Schizophrenia

autism and schizophrenia

Recent findings published in Journal of Neuroscience tracked brain waves that are sent to higher brain areas. By understanding their activity when a predictive error occurs, the researchers hope to find a better understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Schizophrenia.

Every millisecond, our brains recognize many objects, even if there is only minimal visual information. Researchers at Goethe University believe that our brains are able to recognize these objects quickly because our brains are constantly making predictions and comparing them to incoming information. When mismatches occur, our brain is forced to use higher areas of the brain to activate the corrections.

In the research presented, photographs called “Mooney faces” were used. Mooney faces, named after the inventor Craig Mooney, are pictures, which have faces in black and white only. Usually, humans are able to recognize the faces easily as well as recognize the age, gender, and facial expression.

In the study, the Mooney faces intentionally violated two expectations that humans usually have. First, the faces were oriented upright. Secondly, the light was directed from above. Because of the two violations, participants had impaired abilities to recognize faces in the picture.

In this type of situation, the brain is forced to” fix” the orientation. The researchers explain this with a theory called “Predictive Coding” which suggests that signals only have to be sent to higher brain areas for processing if predictions aren’t immediately met. However, other researchers predict the opposite. 

The “Predictive Coding” theory can now be tested.  At the Strungmann Insititute, Frankfurt scientists are able to measure brain waves and, therefore, are able to see when brain waves change. Researchers say that everyday brain wave activity is at about 90 Hertz, but when the brain sees something that is visually contradicting, brain waves increase because of the use of higher areas of the brain.

The results are important because the brain waves used in perception are impaired in people with schizophrenia or Autism Spectrum Disorder. Researchers hope to gain a better understanding of both disorders through further predictive brain wave studies, helping patients find a way to correct their predictive errors.

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By Sejal Sheth