Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Subtle hallmarks of psychiatric illness can reveal themselves even remotely

Date:
April 9, 2013
Source:
Virginia Tech
Summary:
Researchers discovered that healthy people and those with borderline personality disorder displayed different patterns of behavior while playing an online strategy game, so much so that when healthy players played people with borderline personality disorder, they gave up on trying to predict what their partners would do next.

Researchers discovered that healthy people and those with borderline personality disorder displayed different patterns of behavior while playing an online strategy game, so much so that when healthy players played people with borderline personality disorder, they gave up on trying to predict what their partners would do next.

Related Articles


Most people are so attuned to the nuances of social interaction that they can detect clues to mental illness while playing a strategy game with someone they have never met.

That was the finding of a team of scientists led by Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. The researchers discovered that healthy people and those with borderline personality disorder displayed different patterns of behavior while playing an online strategy game, so much so that when healthy players played people with borderline personality disorder, they gave up on trying to predict what their partners would do next.

For their large neuroimaging study, the scientists used a multiround social interaction game, the investor-trustee game, to study the level of strategic thinking in 195 pairs of subjects. In each pair, one player played the investor and the other the trustee. The investor chose how much money to send the trustee, and the trustee in turn decided how much to return to the investor. Profit required the cooperation of both players.

"This classic tit-for-tat game allows us to probe people's responses to the social gestures of others," said Montague, who also directs the Computational Psychiatry Unit, an academic center that uses computational models to understand mental disease. "It further allows us to see how people form models of one another. These insights are important for understanding a range of mental illnesses, as the ability to infer other people's intentions is an essential component of healthy cognition."

The scientists classified the investors according to varying levels of strategic depth of thought. The healthy subjects fell into three categories: about half simply responded to the amount the other player sent; about one-quarter built a model of their partner's behavior; and the remaining quarter considered not just their model of their partner, but also their partner's models of them.

Not surprisingly, the depth-of-thought style of play correlated with success, with the players who looked deeper into interactions making considerably more money than those who played at a shallow level.

When healthy subjects played people with borderline personality disorder, though, they were far less likely to exhibit depth of thought.

"People with borderline personality disorder are characterized by their unstable relationships, and when they play this game, they tend to break cooperation," said Montague. "The healthy subjects picked up on the erratic behavior, likely without even realizing it, and far fewer played strategically."

Notably, the functional magnetic resonance imaging of the subjects' brains revealed that each category of player showed distinct neural correlates of learning signals associated with differing depths of thought. The scientists used hyperscanning, a technique Montague invented that enables subjects in different brain scanners to interact in real time, regardless of geography. Hyperscanning allows scientists to eavesdrop on brain activity during social exchanges in scanners, whether across the hallway or across the world.

"We're always modeling other people, and our brains have a substantial amount of neural tissue devoted to pondering our interactions with other people," Montague said. "This study is a start to turning neural signals into numbers -- not just theory-of-mind arguments, but actual numbers. And when we can do that across thousands of people, we should start to gain insights into psychopathologies -- what circuits are involved, what brain regions are engaged, and how injuries, congenital disorders, and genetic defects might play into psychiatric illness."

Montague believes the study represents a significant contribution to the field of computational psychiatry, which seeks to bring computational clout to efforts to understand mental dysfunction. "Traditional psychiatric categories are useful yet incomplete," said Montague, who delivered a TEDGlobal talk on the growing field of computational psychiatry last year. "Computational psychiatry enables us to redefine with a new lexicon -- a mathematical one -- the standard ways we think about mental illness."

Computationally based insights may one day help psychiatry achieve better precision in diagnosis and treatment, Montague said. But until scientists have the right instruments, they cannot even begin to make those connections.

"The exquisite sensitivity that most people have to social gestures gives us a valuable opening," Montague said. "We're hoping to invent a tool -- almost a human inkblot test -- for identifying and characterizing mental disorders in which social interactions go awry."

The study appeared in PLoS Computational Biology in the article "Computational Phenotyping of Two-Person Interactions Reveals Differential Neural Response to Depth-of-Thought," by Ting Xiang, a doctoral candidate in neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas; Debajyoti Ray, a doctoral candidate in computation and neural systems at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena; Terry Lohrenz, a research assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute; Peter Dayan, director of the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit at University College London; and Montague, the corresponding author, who is a professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, a professor of physics in the College of Science at Virginia Tech, and a professor at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London.

The research was supported by grants to Montague from the Wellcome Trust, the Kane Family Foundation, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute on Aging, as well as funding to Ray and Dayan from The Gatsby Charitable Foundation.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Ting Xiang, Debajyoti Ray, Terry Lohrenz, Peter Dayan, P. Read Montague. Computational Phenotyping of Two-Person Interactions Reveals Differential Neural Response to Depth-of-Thought. PLoS Computational Biology, 2012; 8 (12): e1002841 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002841

Cite This Page:

Virginia Tech. "Subtle hallmarks of psychiatric illness can reveal themselves even remotely." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 April 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130409105905.htm>.
Virginia Tech. (2013, April 9). Subtle hallmarks of psychiatric illness can reveal themselves even remotely. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130409105905.htm
Virginia Tech. "Subtle hallmarks of psychiatric illness can reveal themselves even remotely." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130409105905.htm (accessed December 22, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Monday, December 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) In Yarumal, a village in N. Colombia, Alzheimer's has ravaged a disproportionately large number of families. A genetic "curse" that may pave the way for research on how to treat the disease that claims a new victim every four seconds. Duration: 02:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Buzz60 (Dec. 19, 2014) A double-amputee makes history by becoming the first person to wear and operate two prosthetic arms using only his mind. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) Harvard researchers found children whose mothers were exposed to high pollution levels in the third trimester were twice as likely to develop autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Yoga can help your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and heart just as much as biking and walking does, a new study suggests. 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