Turning the Curse into a Blessing: Using Mindfulness to Reduce Schizophrenia Vulnerability in Psychosis-Prone Individuals

The Fieldrose Charitable Trust PhD Scholarship 2017: Psychology Department, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, Kings College London

Supervisor: Professor Paul Chadwick

Summary: 

We are all confronted with an overwhelming array of sensory stimuli and are required to filter out what is most useful and salient, and discard unwanted information. Leading theorists have argued that schizophrenia may result in part from an inability to filter information. Yet, having a more open information processing style (i.e. less filtering) has also been linked to creativity and originality of thought, which is both an aesthetic and pragmatic blessing for an individual and society. Indeed, schizophrenia and creativity have been linked by previous research. Antipsychotic medication, the first line of psychosis prevention and treatment, is known to dampen down more open processing in people either with or vulnerable to schizophrenia, potentially reducing conditions promoting creativity in these individuals. Our research on expert meditators showed that mindfulness practice is associated with lower suspiciousness and paranoia (the strongest predictors of subsequent schizophrenia) in the presence of decreased filtering. We will examine if mindfulness training in psychosis-prone individuals reduces schizophrenia vulnerability (suspiciousness/paranoia), whilst preserving decreased filtering thought to underlie heightened creativity.

Research Student:
Heather McDonald

I am a recent graduate of MSc Health Psychology at Northumbria University and am due to start my PhD in October 2017, supervised by Professor

Paul Chadwick and Dr. Elena Antonova in the IOPPN of KCL. I am committed to the field of psychology and am greatly interested in research of clinical relevance. I have particular interest in mindfulness, creativity, neuroimaging and the role of neurotransmitters in psychology.

For my undergraduate BSc project in 2015 at Northumbria University, I investigated creative ability in relation to neurotransmitters, using ocular indices of neurotransmitter activity. This research was inspired by the early notion that disinhibited thinking style can drive creative ability in populations with a similar cognitive profile as schizophrenia patients. Results supported evidence suggestive of a link between dopamine, serotonin and creativity.

My 2016 MSc research thesis looked at using mindfulness in order to improve subjective pain through improved attentional control, using neuroimaging. Mindfulness meditation was seen to increase attentional performance, inhibition (specifically, to distraction) and linked in to an improvement in subjective pain. There was also evidence of a link to a role of dopamine activity in this process, which mindfulness meditation may effect.

Outside of studying and research I have spent time teaching undergraduate psychology students, assisting in neuroimaging research at Northumbria University and volunteering within vocational rehabilitation for individuals with acquired brain injuries.

I am very excited about starting the current project at KCL. This great research opportunity has been awarded by Mental Health Research UK; The Fieldrose Charitable Trust PhD Scholarship. 

Start Date: September 2017

Scientific goal: 

To investigate the efficacy of mindfulness-based intervention in psychosis-prone individuals (high positive schizotypy) in reducing the risk factors for schizophrenia (suspiciousness/paranoia), whilst preserving the conditions promoting creativity.