Daphne Holt, MD, PhD, is using virtual reality technology to learn more about how individuals with schizophrenia process perceived intrusions of their personal space, and to identify new diagnostic and treatment options.

Altered Neural Mechanisms of Personal Space in Schizophrenia: a Novel Biomarker of Negative Symptoms and Treatment Targets

Daphne Holt, MD, PhD
Daphne Holt, MD, PhD
MGH Research Scholar 2018-2023
Physician Investigator, Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging
Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that causes many of those affected to lose their ability to understand social cues and to follow accepted norms in behavior, leading in many cases to profound social isolation.

One of these abnormalities in social behavior is a tendency to maintain a greater than average amount of physical distance or "personal space" from other people during day-to-day social interactions.

Our research group has discovered a change in brain function in individuals with schizophrenia that may be responsible for this abnormality.

The goal of our current research is to use this knowledge to test a new technology-based treatment, which is based on evidence that practicing a new behavior can improve the function of the areas of the brain that are responsible for that behavior.

The treatment approach we have developed takes advantage of recent advances in “virtual reality” technology, which give patients the opportunity to practice new social behaviors in a safe and well-controlled "virtual" environment.

Our goal is to reverse the changes in the brain we believe cause the debilitating social deficits experienced by many people with schizophrenia, and thus improve the overall quality of life of these individuals.