Individuals with schizophrenia experience more intense perceptual illusions while gazing into a mirror than do healthy people, according to a new study.
The new research also showed that patients with schizophrenia were more likely to believe the illusions they see in the mirror were real.
The research highlights the underlying ego dysfunction and body dysmorphic disorder found in schizophrenia.
According to the researchers, gazing at one’s own reflected face under low light can lead to ghostly experiences called “strange-face in the mirror” illusions. No study has previously focused on mirror gazing in schizophrenic patients, who already experience delirium, hallucination and self mis-attribution.
Stefano Zago of the University of Milan conducted the study to compare strange-face apparitions in response to mirror gazing in 16 patients with schizophrenia and 21 mentally healthy controls.
Subjects took a 7-minute mirror-gazing test, after which they filled out a specially designed questionnaire asking them to describe their strange-face perceptions.
The results show a number of differences between patients with schizophrenia and mentally healthy controls. Patients on average reported a greater total number of strange faces than controls, at 2.8 versus 1.5.
The types of strange faces also differed between patients and controls. Hugely deformed features were seen by all schizophrenia patients and 71% of controls, archetypal faces by 50% of patients and 19% of controls, and monstrous faces by 88% of patients and 29% of controls. Patients’ archetypical and monster faces were typically described as satanic beings.
Furthermore, patients tended to report greater intensity in the strange faces and were more likely to say that they felt real than controls.
Of note, mentally healthy participants felt dissociative experiences during the strange-face illusions and never identified with them.
Overall, the research suggests that strange-face illusions in schizophrenia can be caused by ego dysfunction, body dysmorphic disorder, or by misattribution of self-agency, said Zago.
The research is published in Schizophrenia Research.
Source: Schizophrenia Research