Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Decoding Funny Faces To Detect Mental Illness

Date:
February 12, 2009
Source:
Tel Aviv University
Summary:
Researchers have discovered that brain imaging can identify mental illness before it starts. Until now, detecting mental illness before symptoms appear has been nearly impossible.

Samples of the "disturbed" and normal faces used in Prof. Hendler's research to diagnose schizophrenia.
Credit: Image courtesy of American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Like Russell Crowe’s character in A Beautiful Mind, life is often difficult for the 2.4 million Americans with schizophrenia.  A late or incorrect diagnosis and the lack of effective treatment options can destroy a sufferer's quality of life.

Related Articles


Schizophrenia usually emerges between the ages of 18 and 30, but diagnosis before the disease manifests could be the key to developing more successful treatments, says Prof. Talma Hendler of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Psychology.

Until now, detecting mental illness before symptoms appear has been nearly impossible.  Building on her groundbreaking work on facial recognition and brain imaging, Prof. Hendler is hoping to make early diagnosis a reality by identifying the physical markers of mental illness — particularly schizophrenia — inside the brain.

“With better diagnosis, plus earlier and more disease-specific treatment, we can make a real difference in the lives of these patients,” Prof. Hendler says.

Mapping The Brain

For years, the mechanism behind the abnormal social behavior that characterizes many schizophrenic patients has been a mystery.  To study the physical manifestation of schizophrenia, Prof. Hendler used brain imaging to illustrate differences between the brain activity of schizophrenic patients and healthy adults.  Her work is part of the Functional Human Brain Mapping project at Tel Aviv University.

Prof. Hendler's findings, published recently in the journal Human Brain Mapping, showed that when presented with photographs of emotional faces with “bizarre” characteristics, the brains of schizophrenic patients were much less reactive than established norms.

In her previous research published in the journal Neuron, when shown a bizarre "funny face", healthy minds respond with selective activity within the brain, sounding the alarm that there is something disturbing about the image.  Prof Hendler then posited that although this selective response is found in visual areas, it has distributed effects in the brain; “The visual areas of the brain are highly connected to other areas, including the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, but in schizophrenic patients, there is a diminished connection between the various parts, leading to disturbed integration of information — and thus to distorted experiences," she says.

Developing Early Screening Processes and Better Treatments

“Recognizing facial emotions is a very early process, so young children could be screened for a predisposition to mental disease by measuring their brain connectivity while detecting emotional cues,” Prof. Hendler explains.  An objective early marker of the disease would be especially useful for those already considered high risk, such as children with an immediate family member with the disease.  With early diagnosis to guide individually tailored treatment, it may be possible to reduce the effect of the disease and, in some cases, even prevent its outbreak.

By identifying the physical characteristics of a mental disorder, Prof. Hendler is also paving the way for new types of treatment.  “Current drugs treat the abnormal behavior, not the brain disorder that is causing the behavior,” she says, “We want to be able to develop more specific treatments based on objective brain markers, which are the actual characteristics of the disease.”

Prof. Hendler’s work has been published in leading journals in the field of cognitive neuroscience such as the Journal of Neuroscience and the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Neuroimage and Neuron.  She is currently also working on using brain imaging to characterize and identify predispositions for post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers.

Future work with “funny faces” will also look at basic human emotions such as shame, envy and guilt.  Having a neural marker for these emotions might give clinicians an early-detection tool to spot abnormalities in social interactions.  Problems in socializing are a hallmark of schizophrenia.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Tel Aviv University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Tel Aviv University. "Decoding Funny Faces To Detect Mental Illness." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 February 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090204131619.htm>.
Tel Aviv University. (2009, February 12). Decoding Funny Faces To Detect Mental Illness. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090204131619.htm
Tel Aviv University. "Decoding Funny Faces To Detect Mental Illness." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090204131619.htm (accessed November 27, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Ebola Leaves Orphans Alone in Sierra Leone

Ebola Leaves Orphans Alone in Sierra Leone

AFP (Nov. 27, 2014) — The Ebola epidemic sweeping Sierra Leone is having a profound effect on the country's children, many of whom have been left without any family members to support them. Duration: 01:02 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Experimental Ebola Vaccine Shows Promise In Human Trial

Experimental Ebola Vaccine Shows Promise In Human Trial

Newsy (Nov. 27, 2014) — A recent test of a prototype Ebola vaccine generated an immune response to the disease in subjects. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Pet Dogs to Be Used in Anti-Ageing Trial

Pet Dogs to Be Used in Anti-Ageing Trial

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) — Researchers in the United States are preparing to discover whether a drug commonly used in human organ transplants can extend the lifespan and health quality of pet dogs. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Today's Prostheses Are More Capable Than Ever

Today's Prostheses Are More Capable Than Ever

Newsy (Nov. 26, 2014) — Advances in prosthetics are making replacement body parts stronger and more lifelike than they’ve ever been. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins