Adam Lanza's Inability to Imitate Normal People Could Have Tipped Medical Professionals Off

It may not have helped Adam Lanza to know this about himself, but a new study has shown that patients with schizophrenia cannot imitate or mimic others.

So?  Believe it or not, that's how we learn social interaction.

Lanza is the person who killed 20 first graders and six educators, along with his mother, in December 2012, in a small Connecticut town.

According to psychologists, "Iimitation is something that we all do whenever we learn a new skill, whether it is dancing or how to behave in specific social situations," reports.

In the study, when patients with schizophrenia were asked to imitate simple hand movements, "their brains exhibited abnormal brain activity in areas associated with the ability to imitate," the Web site notes.

“The ability to imitate is present early in life and is crucial for learning how to navigate the social world," newswise quotes first author Katharine Thakkar, who conducted much of the research while completing her doctoral program at Vanderbilt and is now a post-doctoral fellow at the University Medical Center in Utrecht.. "According to current theory, covert imitation is also the most fundamental way that we understand the intentions and feelings of other people.”

One of the main barriers to recovery for many people with schizophrenia is their profound and enduring difficulty with social interactions, according to newswise. "This makes it difficult for them to have relationships or maintain employment. These social impairments manifest in many different ways, ranging from paranoia that other people intend to hurt them to withdrawing completely from social interactions, and severely impact their quality of life."

In Adam Lanza's life, this showed up all the time, according to his father's recent interview with The New Yorker.  Towards the end of this murderer's life, he corresponded with his mother only by email (though they lived in the same house) and rarely left his room. He didn't have friends and spent most of his time on the computer (or going to shooting ranges with his mother).

“Essentially, the brain network involved in imitation appears less specialized for social information in patients with schizophrenia,” said Sohee Park, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair of Psychology, who directed the study. “The brain network involved in processing social stimuli is finely tuned in healthy people, but is out of tune in individuals with schizophrenia."

Would knowing this have changed the outcome in Newtown? Probably not, but we'll never know for sure. Certainly someone somewhere should have been able to see how this young man was struggling -- and maybe even intuit that he would do something so savage many still can't quite believe it.


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