Exeter - A low-cost, but effective, means of detecting schizophrenia has been developed by means of a virtual reality "game." The computer program requires users to replicate the movement of a computer avatar.
Oculus Rift virtual reality headset | Oculus
The basis of the computer program is to allow psychiatrists to observe and to collect information relating to how patients copy, move and interact socially with a three dimensional image displayed on a screen provided. The exercise is a form of mirror-test. The reason the program takes this form is because variations in the motor skills of patients can sometimes signal schizophrenia. Here research indicates that people who display similar behavioral characteristics tend to move their bodies in the same way. Moreover, each may have an individual motor signature and the study of this can reveal a person's mental state. The software fitted to the virtual reality headset can collect information relating to the user's nonverbal synchrony and neuromotor features.
What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder, arising from caused by both genetic and environmental factors, and one characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to understand what is real. Symptoms vary and can consist of holding false beliefs; unclear or confused thinking; the hearing voices that others do not; reduced social engagement; and a lack of motivation. Schizophrenia affects around one in one hundred people worldwide.
Embroidered words and phrases in this artwork by a schizophrenic patient show her attempt to stitch together an understanding of reality; researchers have attempted to better understand the apparent ties between schizophrenia and other brain diseases, such as epilepsy. | Cometstarmom/Flickr.com
A new approach to diagnosis
With the new program, a patient carries out the interactions via a virtual reality headset. Initial trials, conducted at Exeter University in the U.K., indicate that the results are equivalent to more established methods such as clinical interviews as well as to comparable to neuro-imaging tests. The virtual reality software could thus support other clinical assessments like brain scans.The optimal way to do this was through virtual reality, although the approach also showed success when patients manipulated small robots. However, by using virtual reality patients could fairly readily immerse themselves into an alternate world.
Virtual reality is about computer technologies that use software to generate the realistic images, sounds and other sensations. designed to replicate a real environment.Speaking with the London newspaper The Evening Standard, the inventor of the virtual reality program Dr Piotr Slowinski, lestated: “Human movement can give a fascinating and sophisticated insight into our personality traits and behavioural characteristics."The academic added: “Although this is still at a relatively early stage, we are confident clinical trials could reveal the potential of the mirror test to produce a reliable, adaptable and, crucially, affordable, method for diagnosing and monitoring treatment of schizophrenia in patients of all ages, and all stages of the condition.”
The new research has been published in the journal NPJ Schizophrenia. The research is titled "Unravelling socio-motor biomarkers in schizophrenia."