Caitlin E. Carey ’12 has spent the semester immersed in the Social Neuroscience and Psycho-Pathology Lab in William James Hall, studying somatic associations and schizophrenia.
Carey has a very personal stake in the research. Her uncle suffers from schizophrenia and her family has long advocated for better treatment of the disease. According to Carey, her grandmother has run educational exercises and awareness sessions for many years, and Carey has memories from being ten years old and sorting the brochures for the meetings.
“I thought the brochures were more interesting than Saturday Night Live,” she said.
Though she is still an active advocate, Carey is even more passionate about being able to delve into the scientific side of schizophrenia. Since her freshman year, Carey has worked under thee guidance of Psychology Professor Christine Hooker to examine how people react to words indicating physical interaction such as “Spank” or “Cuddle.”
“In order to understand how people are feeling, you must recreate the feeling in your own mind—forming a kiss in your brain and then associating your somatic representation of the feeling with how the other person is feeling,” Carey explained.
However, people with schizophrenia suffer from a number of social deficits, predominantly stemming from a lack of ability to understand what others think.
Carey’s study includes 22 healthy adults and 20 adults with schizophrenia. She said that when healthy people view somatic words like “cuddle, kiss, slap, and beat,” they have more activation in regions associated with somatic sensation.
“I really like analyzing the data and seeing my results the first time,” Carey said. “I am really sad when my hypothesis seems wrong, but it is really gratifying, when I am right, to know that what I thought was happening in the brain is actually happening.”
Carey’s psychology concentration with a secondary in Computer Science has helped her to build the skillset required by her research.
Because of her Advanced Standing status, Carey is graduating with the class of 2012 rather than 2013, and will be pursuing a degree in psychology at Washington University in St. Louis in the fall.
Her psychology concentration with a secondary in Computer Science has helped her to build the skillset required by her research.
“Writing my thesis would have taken so much longer [without automation and other computer programming skills],” she said.