Researchers in the University of Maryland's Department of Psychology will begin to investigate the impact social impairments associated with schizophrenia and other mental disorders have on the lives of individuals within the next few months, said Jack Blanchard, chair and professor of the psychology department.
The researchers received a $2.2 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health in August to fund the project, which will span over the course of four years, Blanchard added.
"Disorders that have psychotic symptoms — symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions — those disorders are characterized by profound social impairments," he said.
Over the course of 48 months the research team will evaluate approximately 140 participants, ranging from those who have psychotic disorders as well as healthy individuals, Blanchard said. The majority of their research will take place in College Park at the Maryland Neuroimaging Center.
The study will require the team to take brain scans using a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner, which costs $600 for just one hour of use, Blanchard said. The money will help pay for all the scans needed to conduct the research.
In order to understand the social impairments that individuals with these disorders experience, the team will need to analyze data to eventually find out how to cure social impairments, said Jason F. Smith, a research associate in the department's Affective and Translational Neuroscience Lab.
"I'm the one that will put together a set of steps to clean and process the data and do the statistical analysis that allows us to answer these questions," Smith said.
In 2014, an estimated 43.6 million U.S. adults aged 18 and older reported having a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Blanchard said he hopes this research will help his team better understand why exactly individuals with these disorders struggle. The study will also identify the brain mechanisms, cognitive impairment and skills deficits that contribute to social impairments, he added.
This research could lead to better treatment for people who suffer from these disorders, said Luiz Pessoa, a psychology department professor.
"This is really an integration of basic and applied research in clinical psychology, which can have an impact on the lives of people to better their conditions," he said.