Associate professor’s research ties schizophrenia to a lack of motivation

A study by an associate professor of psychology recently affirmed a link between individuals with schizophrenia and motivation deficiency, yet proposed that patients could still accomplish meaningful goals by breaking apart large tasks.

“The reason why we are interested in this is because it affects a person’s quality of life,” said David Gard associate professor of psychology and lab director, who published the study Aug. 18.

Previous research found that lack of ambition is common among people diagnosed with schizophrenia. Gard received a grant in 2011 from the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct the study “Do People with Schizophrenia Have Difficulty Anticipating Pleasure, Engaging in Effortful Behavior, or Both?”

“When you think about people with schizophrenia you think about symptoms that are apparent such as hearing voices, believing in things that are not true, delusions and disorganized thinking,” Gard said. “But there are other problems that are really central and have to do with a lack of experiencing pleasure and getting motivated for larger, intrinsic life goals.”

The lab studied 47 people who were diagnosed with schizophrenia and 41 people who were not. Researchers gave participants cell phones and called them four times a day for a week to ask what they were doing in that moment.

The individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia engaged in activities that were more pleasurable and easy compared to those not diagnosed, the study found. The study also suggests that by breaking up large-scale goals into step by step tasks, people with schizophrenia can accomplish meaningful goals and life pursuits.

Sabreen Khalil, a SF State psychology major, said that she would advocate for strategies like Gard’s if patients who deal with motivation deficit respond to this type of treatment.

“It sure defeats giving them medication that would probably be very harming to their bodies,” Khalil said.

Amy Sanchez, a PhD student in the clinical science program at UC Berkeley and the lab manager for the study, said a schizophrenia diagnosis has proven to be more multi-faceted than people might think.

“It is a very diverse illness and you’ll see people with a huge range of symptoms and levels of functioning,” Sanchez said. “It can look very different from one person to another.”

Gard said that his lab strives to dissolve the stigma associated with mental illness.

“I want people with schizophrenia to feel like it’s a problem they’re dealing with, not an identity,” said Gard.