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Posted 03.09.05
 
 
   

New Book Details Neurological Basis of Self-Awareness

COLUMBIA, Mo. - An autistic child, an alcoholic adult, a woman with an eating disorder, a schizophrenic college student -- all of these people with psychiatric disorders share a lack of self-awareness of their problems. Now, advances in knowledge of the brain and technology for brain imaging are enabling researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia to better understand the neurological basis of self-awareness.

"By knowing more about the way the brain supports our patients' abilities to observe themselves, we can help them change the way they think about themselves and their relationships and help them function more effectively," said Bernard D. Beitman, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the MU School of Medicine.

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Beitman and Jyotsna Nair, assistant professor of psychiatry, are the editors of "Self-Awareness Deficits in Psychiatric Patients," published in February by W.W. Norton & Company.

"This book is designed to help clinicians and caregivers understand how the brain shapes and maintains our sense of who we are," Beitman said. "Deficits in self-awareness are seen in nearly all psychiatric disorders. By studying malfunctions of self-awareness, we can shed light on normal brain functions."

Chapters in the book focus on topics such as neural circuits for self-awareness and their evolutionary origins; brain patterns of self-awareness; self-awareness with schizophrenia, autism, borderline personality disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and conversion disorders such as hysterical paralysis; alcoholic denial; and denial of illness after a stroke.

"Like all psychological functions, the human ability to step back and observe oneself and to know the inner workings of another's mind requires some formatting within the brain," Beitman said. "By defining those parts of the brain that serve as the instruments of self-awareness, we may be able to expand the brain's capacity and abilities."

A very practical consequence of the research, Beitman said, may be advances in treatment of patients with psychiatric disorders that often have tragic and long-lasting consequences for the patients and their families.

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