Positive and Negative Symptoms in Psychosis: Description, Research, and Future Directions

By Philip D. Harvey; Elaine E. Walker | Go to book overview

ELECTRODERMAL ACTIVITY AND SYMPTOMATOLOGY IN SCHIZOPHRENIA

Michael Foster Green, Ph.D.,

Keith H. Nuechterlein, Ph.D., and

Paul Satz, Ph.D.1


Background

The research presented in this chapter is concerned with the psychophysiological correlates of schizophrenic symptoms. Although a great deal of research on psychophysiological factors in schizophrenia has been published, little is known about the relation between these factors and clinical characteristics of schizophrenics. This is particularly true of the electrodermal response, which has been of major interest in psychopathology research.

The electrodermal response (EDR) is a psychophysiological measure obtained by applying a small constant voltage between two electrodes placed on the surface of the skin (typically, on the palm or fingertips). A recording of the baseline level of skin conductance (SCL) and phasic changes in skin conductance levels can be obtained through the use of a polygraph. The skin conductance level is determined by the output of the sweat glands which are in turn solely innervated by the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system ( Edelberg, 1972). Hence, the EDR gives us a relatively direct way to monitor sympathetic neural activity.

The hypothetical tracings in Figure 1 demonstrate several important electrodermal characteristics. First, the figure shows one tracing with higher baseline SCL than the other. The higher tracing remains stable while the lower tracing shows a decline over time. The decline is typical of environmental adaptation (i.e., to the testing room).

In addition, you will notice a phasic increase in skin conductance in response to a tone. These phasic increases are called

____________________
1
The authors would like to thank Donna Gaier for her assistance with data collection and preparation of this manuscript. This work was supported in part by a grant to Dr. Satz from the Scottish Rite Foundation. The laboratory and diagnostic training was supported by NIMH grant 30911.

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