Nancy Andreasen: Biography and Studies on Schizophrenia

The symptoms and signs of schizophrenia are very diverse and complex. In recent years, efforts have been increased in order to simplify thinking about the disease. At this point, we owe a lot to the doctor that we present today: Nancy Andreasen.


Nancy Andreasen is an American doctor, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Neuroimaging Research Center. She also works at the Clinical Research Center for Mental Health at the Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa.

Maybe, if we are not linked to medicine or psychiatry, her name does not tell us much. However, she is a well-known researcher whose work has contributed enormously in numerous studies related to schizophrenia. Her academic life, in fact, was not always linked to medicine, but, on the contrary, Andreasen studied letters.

In fact, she has a Ph.D. in English literature and is specialized in Renaissance literature. She came to work as a teacher in this field, but her life took an unexpected turn. After the delivery of her first daughter, Andreasen went into a serious state of health that would lead her to a decision: to study medicine. Her eagerness for knowledge was satiated and ended up opting for psychiatry.

Her research, however, is not limited only to psychiatry, but covers several branches; highlight: creativity, spirituality, neuroimaging, genomics and natural history and neuronal mechanisms of schizophrenia. We invite you to discover the contributions of this interesting doctor.

Andreasen has been a pioneer in several aspects, a woman who has dared to throw the first stone in numerous occasions. Thus, her career has been deeply marked by these facts:

  • The first quantitative study of Magnetic Resonance (MR) of schizophrenia.
  • The development of the first scales to measure the positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia.
  • First modern empirical study of creativity that examined family and environmental factors, cognition and the relationship with mental illness.
  • The first study that combines genomic techniques with neuroimaging techniques.
  • The doctor has also contributed to the area of ​​psychiatric diagnosis in Task Groups DSM III and DSM IV. In fact, he was responsible for building the foundation for the study of stress disorders by writing the definition of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for the DSM III.
  • Andreasen was also president of the American Psychopathology Association and the Psychiatric Research Society. Currently, he is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Nancy Andreasen and her work in schizophrenia

Dr. Nancy Andreasen is a leading expert in the field of schizophrenia. He has made numerous research studies that have helped to understand their mechanisms and improve their treatment.

Schizophrenia is one of the most important public health problems. It affects 1% of the world’s population and, according to the World Health Organization, ranks ninth among all medical diseases in terms of global burden of diseases: above cancer, AIDS, heart disease, diabetes and other important diseases.

The signs and symptoms of schizophrenia are diverse: they include disorders of perception, that is, hallucinations; inferential thinking, in other words, delusions; behavior directed to objectives (avolition) and emotional expression (affective dullness), among others. However, none of its many signs and symptoms can be considered pathognomonic or defining.

In this way, each symptom is present in some patients, but none is present at all. In this sense, schizophrenia differs from most other mental illnesses that generally affect only one brain system, such as Alzheimer’s disease (memory) or manic-depressive illness (mood).

The symptoms and signs of schizophrenia are very diverse and complex. Therefore, recently, an effort has been made to simplify thinking about the disease by subdividing it into natural categories.

The reconceptualization of schizophrenia by Dr. Andreasen

The modern reconceptualization developed by Dr. Andreasen divides the symptoms in “positive” and “negative”. It defines positive symptoms as an exaggeration of normal functions (the presence of something that should be absent) and negative symptoms, on the other hand, as a loss of normal functions (the absence of something that should be present).

  • Positive symptoms include: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech and disorganized behavior.
  • Negative symptoms include: alogia, avolition, anhedonia and affective dullness.

In the language of neuroscience, schizophrenia is a disease that affects distributed neural circuits, rather than individual cells or individual regions. Such disorders, sometimes, are called syndromes of wrong connection. Most people with schizophrenia have the subjective feeling that their ability to think and feel has been disorganized or disconnected in some way.

The neuroimaging tools have allowed us to study how the brains of people with schizophrenia function differently. These studies have shown us that the subjective experience of “disconnection” or “disorganization” reflects a problem in the ability of distributed brain regions to send return messages efficiently and accurately.

For this reason, the etymology of the name of the disease is more than appropriate. Literally means “fragmented or disconnected mind”. So it describes the observed through the neuroimaging tools.

Currently, Nancy Andreasen continues her research work carrying out studies that contribute to our knowledge of schizophrenia and, consequently, to improve their treatment. These include structural and functional neuroimaging studies. Also studies of longitudinal course and results, studies that examine genetic and genomic factors and integrates them with neuroimaging studies.

In short, we are facing an important figure in the field of psychiatry and, more specifically, of schizophrenia. A doctor who continues tirelessly dedicated to research, a doctor to whom we owe enormous advances in this field.