'Slower' children suffer more psychosis, Cardiff and Bristol research claims

Boy with head in his hands
Image caption The study has been published in the American Journal of Psychiatry

Children whose brains process information more slowly than their peers are at greater risk of having psychotic experiences, research claims.

A study found those slower in tests were more likely to have psychosis, like hearing voices and seeing things that are not present, at the age of 12.

Children with psychotic experiences are more at risk of developing psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia as adults.

It is hoped the Cardiff and Bristol universities study will help treatment.

Some 6,784 children who took part in the study were tested to see how quickly they could process information.

Their attention, memory, reasoning, and ability to solve problems were also assessed.

Among those interviewed, 787 (11.6%) had had suspected or definite psychotic experiences by the time they were 12 - with children who scored lower in the tests more likely to have had them.

This was particularly the case for the test that assessed how quickly the children processed information.

Researchers said that the psychotic experiences could often be both distressing and frightening and interfere with children's everyday lives.

The study has been published in the American Journal of Psychiatry..

Maria Niarchou, from Cardiff University's School of Medicine, lead author of the study, said: "Previous research has shown a link between the slowing down of information processing and schizophrenia and this was found to be at least in part the result of anti-psychotic medication.

"However, this study shows that impaired information processing speed can already be present in childhood and associated with higher risk of psychotic experiences, irrespective of medication."


But her Cardiff colleague Dr Marianne van den Bree said not every child who processed information slowly was at risk of psychosis later in life.

"Further research is needed to determine whether interventions to improve processing speed in at-risk children can lead to decreased transition to psychotic disorders," she said.

Ruth Coombs, of the mental health charity Mind Cymru, said the research could help young people at risk of psychosis to build resilience and to benefit from early help.

"It is important to remember that people can and do recover from mental health problems and we also welcome further research which supports resilience building in young people," she added.

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