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Me and My Unpleasant Shadow—A Substrate for Paranoia and Outside Control?

21 September 2006. Paranoia and the sense that others are controlling one’s thoughts and actions are prominent in many people with schizophrenia, but there is little understanding of what underlies these symptoms. A short case report in today’s issue of Nature offers a serendipitous clue about one brain region that may be involved. Olaf Blanke of the École Polytechnique Fédérale of Lausanne, Switzerland, and colleagues report that electrical stimulation at the junction between the temporal and parietal lobes in an awake patient evoked a sensation of a shadow person, who mirrored the patient’s movements.

First author Shahar Arzy and colleagues write that the 22-year-old woman was being evaluated for possible surgery to treat epilepsy when she reported a person mirroring her body position, but just outside it. At that moment, the researchers were stimulating in the border zone of the temporal and parietal lobes, an area that has been found to integrate sensory information to help create accurate perceptions of the body and self (see also Arzy et al., 2006).

When the patient sat up and embraced her knees, the shadow person seemed to embrace her, and it was not a pleasant experience. Even more interesting, when she sorted cards, the authors write, she reported the shadow person interfering with her: “He wants to take the card. He doesn’t want me to read.”

The authors note that Chloe Farrer of Institut des Sciences Cognitives in Lyon, France, and colleagues have linked hyperactivity in temporoparietal cortex with the misattribution of agency in patients with schizophrenia (Farrer et al., 2004). “Although our patient was aware of the similarity between her own postural and positional features and those of the illusory person, she did not recognize that that person was an illusion of her own body, like many deluded schizophrenic patients,” the authors write.—Hakon Heimer.

Arzy S, Seeck M, Ortigue S, Spinelli L, Blanke O. Induction of an illusory shadow person. Nature. 2006; Sep 21. Abstract

Comments on News and Primary Papers
Comment by:  Carol Tamminga, SRF Advisor
Submitted 21 September 2006 Posted 21 September 2006

There is an interesting old neurosurgury literature that...  Read more

View all comments by Carol Tamminga

Comment by:  Avi Peled
Submitted 29 September 2006 Posted 29 September 2006

You do not need fancy direct brain stimulation to fool the...  Read more

View all comments by Avi Peled

Comment by:  Daniel Wolf
Submitted 6 October 2006 Posted 6 October 2006
  I recommend the Primary Papers

I wonder whether temporoparietal dysfunction and the...  Read more

View all comments by Daniel Wolf

Comment by:  Chloe Farrer
Submitted 19 December 2006 Posted 19 December 2006

One important comment to make when one compares the study...  Read more

View all comments by Chloe Farrer
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