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Formal Thought Disorder and Self-Disorder: An Empirical Study

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Background: Formal thought disorder was constitutively linked to the original concept of schizophrenia and has since been one of central features supporting its diagnosis. Bleuler considered formal thought disorder as a fundamental symptom of schizophrenia among other fundamental symptoms, including ego disorders. The contemporary concept of self-disorder represents a more developed, nuanced, and systematic approach to disturbances of self-experience than the Bleulerian concept of ego disorders. As fundamental symptoms, on Bleuler's account, are persistently present in every case, an association between these symptoms could be expected. The purpose of this study was to examine the association between self-disorder and formal thought disorder. Methods: A sample of 94 diagnostically heterogeneous patients was examined for formal thought disorder using clinical rating and a proverb test. The proverb test was analyzed for two different aspects of formal thought disorder: literal responses and bizarre responses. The sample was comprehensively assessed for psychopathology, including self-disorder as measured with the Examination of Anomalous Self-Experience scale. Results: The patients, who provided bizarre responses, had a higher level of self-disorder, more negative symptoms, lower level of social functioning, and lower level of intelligence. Bizarre answers aggregated in patients diagnosed within the schizophrenia spectrum compared with patients outside the schizophrenia spectrum. We found moderate correlations between the two measures of formal thought disorder (clinically rated and bizarre responses) and self-disorder (0.454 [p < 0.01] and 0.328 [p < 0.01]). Literal responses did not differ between diagnostic groups and also did not correlate with bizarre responses. Specificity of bizarre responses for a diagnosis within schizophrenia spectrum was 86.89%, whereas sensitivity was 40.85%. Conclusion: The close relation between formal thought disorder and self-disorder further adds to the notion of self-disorder as a unifying psychopathological core beneath the apparently heterogeneous symptoms of schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish
Article number640921
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Pages (from-to)640921
Publication statusPublished - 2021

    Research areas

  • bizarre, formal thought disorder, literal, proverb, schizophrenia, schizotypy, self-disorder

ID: 67570795