Matthew Kurtz, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, has published an article in the March 2013 issue of Scientific American Mind magazine. Kurtz, who studies schizophrenia, writes about the less-well-known symptoms of the disease, which include cognitive and social deficits. These troubles make it difficult for people with schizophrenia to maintain meaningful relationships, hold jobs and live independently. Sadly, drugs used to treat the hallucinations and delusions in schizophrenia do nothing to improve patients’ quality of life in these other areas.
In the article, Kurtz describes some of the new psychological interventions shown to improve cognitive and social skills in people with schizophrenia. One such therapy, called cognitive remediation, uses computer software or paper-and-pencil exercises to improve patients’ ability to concentrate, remember, plan and solve problems. Other treatments, called social cognitive or “social skills” training programs, work to improve social skills by helping patients to decipher emotional cues and take another person’s perspective. Remarkably, these therapies appear to create visible changes in brain activity.
The full article can be viewed online (a fee applies for non-Wesleyan-network readers).
In addition, Kurtz, together with students in his lab, recently had two academic papers on schizophrenia published.
On Dec. 30, 2012, the paper, “Cognitive and social cognitive predictors of change in objective versus subjective quality-of-life in rehabilitation for schizophrenia,” was published in Psychiatry Research. Written by Kurtz, psychology major Melanie Bronfeld ’12, and Research Professor of Psychology Jennifer Rose, the paper explores the role of cognitive, social cognitive and symptom factors as predictors of response to psychosocial rehabilitation in schizophrenia. Somewhat different patterns of factors predicted change in objective indices of quality-of-life, (eg. work success, number of friends, etc.) and subjective quality-of-life indices (ie. personal satisfaction with these same life domains—vocational status and social life, etc.) More specifically, social cognitive factors only played a role in predicting improvements in objective quality-of-life while verbal memory predicted improvement in both domains.
Also, on Feb. 1, Kurtz, Rose and neuroscience and behavior major Rachel Olfson ’14 had a paper, “Self-efficacy and functional status in schizophrenia: Relationship to insight, cognition and negative symptoms,” published in Schizophrenia Research. The authors studied the role of self-efficacy—defined as one’s belief in his or her ability to accomplish a goal–in helping explain the relationship of cognition and negative symptoms to outcome in schizophrenia. They found that self-efficacy only plays a role in outcome in patients with good illness insight. When illness insight is poor, self-efficacy has minimal value as a meaningful psychological construct explaining outcome in the disease.
Learn more about Kurtz’s research in this Wesleyan video.