Schizophrenia, which affects about 1% of the world’s population, is characterised by cognitive disorders and a loss of contact with reality (e.g. hallucinatory delusions, loss of emotions, social withdrawal). Social withdrawal is one of the most harmful factors that can increase psychiatric disorders. Putting oneself “instead of someone else” describes the ability to adopt a perspective other than one’s own. This ability is essential for interacting effectively with others. This perspective-taking involves not only reasoning at the social level (such as understanding someone’s thoughts, desires or intentions) but also at the spatial level (e.g. the object on my right is for someone else on their left).
Social and spatial perspectives have mostly been studied separately, however, emerging theories suggest that the two share common neural mechanisms. Recent studies conducted at ISIR have shown a link between spatial and social perspectives for the adult neurotypical population. In particular, it has been shown that the spatial ability to decentre, i.e. to adopt a spatial perspective other than one’s own, is related to social intelligence and attachment style.
In someone else’s shoes: Improving social perspective taking through spatial flexibility in schizophrenic patients
The project “In someone else’s shoes: Improving social perspective taking through spatial flexibility in schizophrenic patients” led by Malika Auvray, a CNRS researcher in cognitive neuroscience at ISIR, aims to pave the way for research aimed at improving social difficulties, which are common in schizophrenic patients.
“In this project, we hope to demonstrate the possibility of improving social perspective taking by training flexibility in spatial perspective taking,” explains Malika.
Indeed, an improvement in social skills through an improvement in spatial skills could serve as a protective factor against the negative psychosocial impact of isolation. This project aims to show to what extent improvements in social functioning are possible by targeting the flexibility of spatial perspective taking. The results will help characterise which cognitive processes are most important to target to improve social deficits in schizophrenia.
“For the coming years, we hope that this project will be the cornerstone of a larger research project aimed at a systematic study of the causal links between spatial and social cognition. We aim to extend this work to all people with social cognition deficits.
Ultimately, the results of this project could provide specifications for the design of remediation tools that use the brain’s ability to adapt to the perspective of others, a process that is crucial for healthy social interactions. The methodology can be applied in future research to other psychopathologies characterised by deficits in social cognition such as autism spectrum disorders and personality disorders.
A concert in aid of schizophrenia research
The project is jointly supported by UNAFAM, La Girafe Lyrique and the Brain Research Federation.
La Girafe Lyrique is an association of people who are passionate about choral singing and human relations. Every two years, it organises a major event, “Venite Cantemus”, which brings together several hundred choir members from France, Europe and even further afield to sing for the benefit of research into mental disorders.
This year’s “Venite Cantemus” concert will take place on Sunday 14 November at the Chatelet Theatre in Paris, with Handel’s Messiah. All profits from the concert will be donated to the schizophrenia research project led by Malika Auvray.
Link to the website of the “Venite Cantemus” concert: https://www.venitecantemus.com
Contact: Malika Auvray, CNRS Researcher