OCT 21, 2021 8:11 AM PDT

Do Childhood Psychotic-Like Experiences and Genetics Forecast Adult Psychosis?

WRITTEN BY: Mia Wood

 

The pandemic has revealed quite a bit about how societies are struggling, from gender inequities to mental health. For example, the pandemic intensified a variety of mental health problems for women. Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis wanted to understand the origin of mental health problems generally, so they looked to children and genetic dispositions.

The study’s lead author, Nicole Karcher, noted that little is understood about “the trajectories of psychotic-like experiences in childhood.” In other words, researchers do not have a solid understanding of whether or not, and how, childhood psychotic-like experience develops into adult psychotic disorder. According to Karcher, “only a subset of individuals with even severe psychotic-like experiences will likely develop a psychotic disorder in adulthood.” The key, Karcher asserts, is “to understand the most important predictors of psychotic-like experiences.”

Researchers studied children, aged 9 and 10, who experienced at least one psychotic-like experience (PLE) in a month. A psychotic-like experience includes “perceptual abnormalities and mild delusional thoughts.” 

Homing in on PLEs in childhood and genetics, the researchers were interested in the relation between childhood PLEs and the “estimated genetic liability for a given trait or outcome.” The research team mined data from a National Institutes of Health-funded study on adolescent cognitive development. They also solicited participants for a 21-item questionnaire whose focus was on psychotic-like experiences in a given month. Based on their PLE scores, researchers divided the participants into three groups: Those with no PLEs, those who reported one or more PLEs but no associated substantive distress, and those with one or more PLEs and associated substantive distress.

“[O]nly a subset of children experiencing more severe phenomena show associations with polygenic liability for psychosis,” Karcher reports. That liability is associated with “increased genetic liability for psychosis.” The results of the study provide new ways of thinking about therapeutic interventions to prevent adult psychosis.

Sources: Group Processes and Intergroup RelationsUniversity of Chicago MedicineNeuroscienceNewsNational Library of MedicineBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and NeuroimagingABCStudy.org

About the Author
  • I am a philosophy professor and writer with a broad range of research interests.
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