Our research program lies at the intersection between biological psychiatry and cognitive neuroscience with developmental and social cognition components. Our broad research goals are to specify and understand neurobiological bases of psychoses and in doing so, to further elucidate neural underpinnings of normal cognitive processes. Since early 1990s, we have focused on understanding the nature of cognitive deficits of schizophrenia (e.g. deficits in working memory, attention, oculomotor control, thought) to elucidate the relationships among behavioral signs, brain abnormalities and psychotic symptoms
We work with observable and quantifiable behaviors that can clearly differentiate patients with schizophrenia from healthy people and we try to understand the neural origins and behavioral consequences of these differences. Our earlier studies of working memory deficit in schizophrenia have played a significant role in establishing cognitive impairments as core features of schizophrenia (e.g. Park & Holzman 1992, 1993; see meta-analytic review in Lee & Park, 2005). These investigations led to a deep interest in identifying components and etiology of core cognitive symptoms and associated endophenotypic markers of schizophrenia (e.g. Park, Holzman & Goldman-Rakic, 1995; Park, Holzman & Lenzenweger, 1995; Park et al, 1999; Myles-Worsley & Park, 2002). Better understanding of cardinal features of schizophrenia should lead to more effective pharmacological and behavioral treatments. Moreover, specification of behavioral markers may help us detect neurocognitive precursors of psychosis in young people at high-risk, which should be very useful for developing effective intervention strategies.
Schizophrenia is not only characterized by cognitive impairments. There are surprising pockets of intact and enhanced abilities. Schizophrenia patients and healthy schizotypal individuals tend to have distributed, disinhibited spatial attention, reduced laterality and increased divergent thinking. Moreover, recent data from our lab indicate that schizophrenia may be associated with intact or enhanced visuospatial imagery ability in spite of reduced working memory. These results motivate us to continue to investigate the association between schizophrenia spectrum and creativity.
We are also interested in elucidating social consequences of cognitive deficits and the relationship between social information processing and memory and attention. To study these complex interactions, we focus on the role of internal (mental) representation in guiding socially relevant behavior and the interaction between faulty perception and faulty cognition in the context of delusion formation.
Our lab has been successful in building synergistic collaborations with a wide range of experts from neurology and radiology to social and developmental psychology. We utilize multiple methods and techniques to examine components of memory, attention and social deficits in psychiatric patients (cognitive neuropsychology, psychophysics, psychophysiology, fMRI, near-infrared optical imaging, PET, DTI and neuropharmacology).
In the next decade, we expect to grow further towards understanding the etiology of schizophrenia, its developmental trajectory in pre-schizophrenic adolescents and the individual differences in the phenotypic manifestation of the disorder so that we may begin to implement intervention strategies and more effective, tailored pharmacological and behavioral treatments.