People who have schizophrenia could use new techniques to control the parts of the brain linked to hearing voices, according to new research by King’s College London.
The study involved 12 patients who experienced verbal hallucinations on a daily basis.
Brain imaging experts Dr Natasza Orlov of King’s IoPPN and Professor Paul Allen of the University of Roehampton targeted a region of the brain which is sensitive to speech and human voices, and is hyperactive in people with schizophrenia and verbal hallucinations.
The researchers designed a ‘neurofeedback’ technique, where patients in an MRI scanner could monitor their own neural activity - represented by a computerised space rocket, and patients were instructed to land the rocket by bringing it down to earth.
Patients were asked to develop their own mental strategies to move the rocket.
After four visits to the MRI scanner, patients were able to reduce neural activity in the speech sensitive region of the brain and were able to control their brain activity without the visual feedback from the space rocket.
After training, patients had learned lasting strategies which they could apply during their daily lives.
Dr Natasza Orlov from King’s IoPPN said: “We encouraged our patients to use the same control strategies that they learnt in the MRI scanner at home. The patients know when the voices are about to start – they can feel it, so we want them to immediately put this aid into effect to lessen them, or stop the voices completely. Our study has shown that people with schizophrenia can learn some sort of mental strategy to help their symptoms – something which several years of medication has not helped with.”
“Although the study sample size is small and we lacked a control group, these results are promising. We are now planning to conduct a randomised controlled study to test this technique in a larger sample.”
The study was published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, and was funded by the Medical Research Council.