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Myth / Poor parenting causes schizophrenia.
Fact / Psychiatrists since Sigmund Freud have regarded the family environment as the key factor in the development of the personality. It seemed clear to many that a disturbed individual must be the product of a disturbed family. Under Freud’s influence, researchers and clinicians identified many traits such as "contradictory expectations" and "covert rejection" which supposedly characterized families of people with schizophrenia. These studies were almost always retrospective; they often lacked controls, and they failed to consider that family tumult might be the result of, rather than the cause of, the presence of a schizophrenic family member.
     As late as the 1970s, textbooks still blamed "schizophrenogenic" mothers for causing their children’s illness. Uncounted families have suffered shame, guilt, and stigma as a consequence of the widespread acceptance of such theorizing. No good evidence supports the theory that family environment causes schizophrenia, and very strong evidence supports biological factors as the cause.
     Coping with a family member who has schizophrenia is extremely demanding. Many families break up under the strain or abandon their ill family member. Families need empathy and support just as those with schizophrenia do.

Where in the brain / Scientists looking at the structure of the brain have noticed differences in the activities of certain parts of the brain in people with schizophrenia. These changes have been seen in what is called the "limbic region" of the brain.
     The limbic region includes a complex system of nerve pathways and networks. Structurally these include the amygdala and hippocampus. This area is responsible for basic human functions such as drive for reproduction, searching for food, fear, rage, pleasure, and the establishment of memory patterns.
     These structures are visable to the naked eye-- but for now let’s look at what is going on down at the cellular level in or among interneurons in the limbic system.

Imagine a radio tuned to several stations at once / Research into the operation of the brain has shown that people with schizophrenia have problems with certain types of brain cells, called inhibitory interneurons. Inhibitory interneurons damp down the action of other nerve cells, preventing them from responding to too many inputs. Thus they prevent the brain from being overwhelmed by too much sensory information from the environment. Interneurons normally manufacture several chemicals called neurotransmitters.
     The abnormal function of these interneurons appears to produce changes in the brain cells that release the neurotransmitter dopamine. A dysfunction of dopaminergic systems has long been considered important to schizophrenia. In fact, drugs such as amphetamines increase dopamine’s effects and can cause psychoses that resemble schizophrenia.

Myth / People with schizophrenia are mentally retarded.
Fact / Schizophrenia and mental retardation are entirely different conditions. Schizophrenia occurs in people of all levels of intelligence, and often in talented and creative people. Schizophrenia does cause some cognitive problems such as poor concentration and difficulty with abstract thinking. However, it does not affect overall intelligence.

The Tools / For a long time, scientists have studied the brain’s functioning by examining brain tissue after death. But technology now allows researchers to look into a brain in operation. They use a number of different tools:

  • CT-Scan is Computerized Tomography and involves passing x-rays through the body. It provides images of the structures of the brain and was largely responsible for showing researchers differences in the ventricular system, particularly in the frontal lobes and left hemisphere.
  • MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. It produces a three-dimensional picture of the brain, giving researchers more detailed information than a C-T scan.

Three other techniques, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography, and Positron Emission Tomography, allow scientists to monitor the blood flow into different regions of the brain.

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