A new study shows that how people experience emotion through their bodies is radically altered in people with schizophrenia.

For the study, researchers at Vanderbilt University compared individuals with schizophrenia with matched control participants, asking each to fill in a “body map” in a way that correlates to the way they physically experience emotion. The researchers used a computerized coloring task to locate where participants feel sensations when they experience, for example, anger or depression.

According to the study’s findings, the outcomes differed radically between the groups.

The control group showed distinct maps of sensations for 13 different emotions, indicating specific patterns of increased arousal and decreased energy across the body for each emotion.

However, in individuals with schizophrenia, there was an overall reduction of bodily sensation across all emotions.

The study also found that individuals with schizophrenia don’t differentiate on their body maps for varying emotions. That may pose a problem for them in identifying, recognizing, and verbalizing their emotions or trying to understand the emotions of others, according to the researchers, Dr. Sohee Park, a professor of psychology, and Ph.D. student Lénie J. Torregrossa.

The research will allow the team to move forward in developing ways to help people with schizophrenia process emotions, which, in turn, could improve interpersonal relationships, Torregrossa said.

“The main outcome of this research is that we have a better understanding of why people with schizophrenia might have trouble interacting with others,” she said. “What we can do now is help them learn to attend to physiological sensations arising from their bodies and use them to process emotions.”

The study was published in the Schizophrenia Bulletin.

Source: Vanderbilt University

Photo: This graphic compares body maps of the control group (top) and of people with schizophrenia (bottom). Credit: Sohee Park.