Schizophrenia Brain - Do People with Schizophrenia Have Different Brains?

Two hundred years ago phrenologists raised concerns of localization of functions in the brain.  Scientists in the past have identified localization of function on the cortex (Hergenhahn, 2009).  Research showed that schizophrenia and other mental disorders may be related to dysfunctions or abnormal structures of localized units of the brain.   Based on studies of abnormal brains during last ten years, scientists connected schizophrenia, especially cases dominated by negative symptoms, to structural abnormalities of the brain.  From brain images, researchers identified that schizophrenic patients usually have enlarged ventricles, the brain cavities that contain cerebrospinal fluid (Comer, 2010). 

Recent studies also linked schizophrenia to abnormalities of the hippocampus, amygdala, and thalamus, among other brain structures.  In a study on cortical thickness, gray matter volume, and white matter diffusivity and anisotropy in schizophrenia, Murakami et al. (2011) concluded that schizophrenic patients had significantly decreased hippocampal volume compared with healthy controls and “that progressive hippocampal volume loss occurs in the early course of illness in schizophrenic patients but not in the more chronic stages” (p. 859).  Another research by Pinkham (2012) showed that schizophrenia is associated with aberrant brain responses in the neural network involved in cognition-emotion interaction. These findings point to neurophysiological alterations in brain networks associated with cognitive control over emotion processing, which may underlie impairments in many aspects of goal-directed behavior in people with schizophrenia.

Even though psychologists today can associate schizophrenia with disturbances in identifiable brain regions and the chemicals located there, the research of schizophrenia should not be restricted simply to these regions and chemicals (Toates, 2011).   As Toates (2011) suggested, further studies should address “the psychological phenomena of schizophrenia, such as apathy and hallucinations, emerge from a whole brain that contains such local disturbances” (p. 12).


Comer, R. J. (2010). Abnormal psychology (8th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Hergenhahn, B. R. (2009). An introduction to the history of psychology (6th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

Murakami, M., Takao, H., Abe, O., Yamasue, H., Sasaki, H., Gonoi, W., & ... Ohtomo, K. (2011). Cortical thickness, gray matter volume, and white matter anisotropy and diffusivity in schizophrenia. Neuroradiology, 53(11), 859-866. doi:10.1007/s00234-010-0830-2

Pinkham, A. E., Sasson, N. J., Beaton, D., Abdi, H., Kohler, C. G., & Penn, D. L. (2012). Qualitatively distinct factors contribute to elevated rates of paranoia in autism and schizophrenia. Journal Of Abnormal Psychology, 121(3), 767-777. doi:10.1037/a0028510

Toates, F. (2011). Biological psychology (3rd ed.). Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

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