“Mirror Game” Virtual Reality Test Could Enable Low-Cost Early Detection and Monitoring of Schizophrenia

Virtual reality could hold the key to unlocking an affordable, reliable, and effective device to provide early diagnosis and management of schizophrenia. A pioneering new study, led by experts from the University of Exeter (UK) in collaboration with partners from the Alterego FP7 EU project, has developed a new, “mirror game” test using computer avatars to accurately detect specific variations in how patients move and interact socially - well-documented characteristics of the mental disorder. For the study, the research team asked volunteers to perform a series of specific movements on their own, and then mirror some movements carried out by a computer avatar on a large screen placed opposite them. The results of these first trials revealed that the test gave a more accurate diagnosis when compared to clinical interviews, and comparable results when compared to more expensive, traditional neuroimaging methods, the team has concluded. The scientists believe it could open up new, unobtrusive pathways for health professionals to diagnose and treat schizophrenia in the future. They are now looking at conducting clinical trials to confirm the effectiveness of the early detection technique, before it can be employed in clinical practices worldwide. The study was published online in the leading scientific journal npj Schizophrenia on Wednesday, February 1 2017. The open-access article is titled “Unravelling Socio-Motor bBomarkers in Schizophrenia.” Dr. Piotr Slowinski, lead author of the study and a Mathematics Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, explained: "Human movement can give a fascinating and sophisticated insight into our personality traits and behavioral characteristics.
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