What is apophenia
Apophenia is the human tendency to perceive meaningful patterns within random data and unconnected events or stimuli 1). Indeed, apophenia as a trait is positively correlated with identification of meaningful patterns in noisy or random visual stimuli 2). Apophenia may be caused, at least in part, by the low levels of latent inhibition that have been demonstrated repeatedly in psychosis and schizotypy 3). Impaired ability to correctly infer others’ mental states (‘Theory of Mind’) and the tendency to perceive meaning in unrelated events (‘apophenia’) have been implicated in vulnerability to schizophrenia 4). In humans, this is an empirically well-documented phenomenon 5).
Schizotypy is a personality trait (more precisely, a cluster of traits) that reflects subclinical levels of symptoms of schizophrenia-spectrum disorders in the general population, and it is a major liability factor for those disorders. Dopamine has long been implicated in schizophrenia, and most anti-psychotic medications are dopamine antagonists 6). Importantly, excess dopamine seems to be involved specifically in the psychotic, or positive, symptoms of schizophrenia, which include magical ideation, perceptual aberrations (e.g., hallucination), and overinclusive thinking 7). All the symptoms of positive schizotypy can be described as apophenia, the tendency to perceive meaningful patterns and causal connections where none in fact exist, and these symptoms are predicted by Openness 8). Openness/Intellect describes the general tendency to be imaginative, curious, perceptive, creative, artistic, thoughtful, and intellectual. The psychological process unifying these traits has been identified as “cognitive exploration,” with cognition conceived broadly to include both reasoning and perceptual processes 9). The tendency to detect covariance patterns, which is associated with Openness as well as apophenia 10), may lead to over-interpretation of coincidences and sensory noise as meaningful patterns. Occasional failures to detect associations of latent inhibition with schizotypy may be due to the confounding of positive and negative symptoms. The latter comprise anhedonia—that is, lack of pleasure in sensory and social experience—and may actually be positively related to latent inhibition 11), which is consistent with the association of anhedonia with dopamine 12). In neuroimaging studies, schizotypy has predicted Dopamine-2 receptor density and dopamine release in response to amphetamine 13). Excess dopamine has been described as producing “aberrant salience” in schizophrenia-spectrum disorders 14). The association of apophenia with Openness suggests that both may be influenced by level of activity in the salience system 15), although apophenia seems likely to be more specifically related to dopamine than is Openness more generally.
Figure 1. Model of schizotypy
Inclusion of positive schizotypy or apophenia as a facet of Openness is nearly as controversial as inclusion of intelligence as a facet of Intellect, in part because apophenia is weakly negatively correlated with intelligence and nearly uncorrelated with questionnaire measures of Intellect. Nonetheless, DeYoung et al 17) have shown that both apophenia and intelligence load positively on the general Openness/Intellect factor, and that when Openness and Intellect are separated, then apophenia loads strongly with Openness 18). The negative association of apophenia with intelligence suggests it could be caused in part by an imbalance of dopaminergic function in different branches of the salience system. If striatal dopamine is highly active in response to salient events, encouraging the assignment of meaning to correlational patterns, but dopamine levels in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex are either too high or too low to support working memory and intelligence, this could lead to difficulty differentiating likely from unlikely patterns 19). Deficits in intelligence with causes entirely unrelated to dopamine could also produce apophenia in conjunction with high levels of activity in the salience coding system 20). Apophenia is clearly linked to Openness and can be well-described as “openness to implausible patterns” 21).
In the Personality Inventory for the DSM 5 22) and in the Personality Psychopathology Five model 23), positive schizotypy or apophenia is labeled Psychoticism. The construct measured by the Personality Inventory for the DSM 5 24) and other scales assessing apophenia should not be confused with the construct measured by Eysenck’s Psychoticism scale, which most personality psychologists agree was mislabeled, as it measures antisocial and impulsive behavior (sometimes called “impulsive non-conformity”) rather than positive schizotypy 25). Some have considered impulsive non-conformity to be a facet of schizotypy, but it is distinct from the positive psychotic symptoms that are characterized by apophenia. Eysenck’s Psychoticism does not appear to predict risk for schizophrenia diagnosis 26). Studies linking Eysenck’s Psychoticism to dopamine 27) are thus most relevant to the sections Impulsivity and Sensation Seeking and Aggression below, which discuss impulsivity and aggression.
Apophenia is the human tendency to perceive meaningful patterns within random data and unconnected events or stimuli 28).
References [ + ]
|1, 28.||↵||Conrad K. Die beginnende Schizophrenie. Versuch einer Gestaltanalyse des Wahns [The commencing schizophrenia. Trial on a gestalt analysis of delusion]. Stuttgart, Germany: Georg Thieme Verlag; 1958.|
|2.||↵||Blackmore S., Moore R. (1994). Seeing things: visual recognition and belief in the paranormal. Eur. J. Parapsychol. 10, 91–103 10.1162/jocn.2009.21313|
|3.||↵||Which schizotypal dimensions abolish latent inhibition? Gray NS, Fernandez M, Williams J, Ruddle RA, Snowden RJ. Br J Clin Psychol. 2002 Sep; 41(Pt 3):271-84.|
|4.||↵||Apophenia, theory of mind and schizotypy: Perceiving meaning and intentionality in randomness. Cortex Volume 44, Issue 10, November–December 2008, Pages 1316-1325https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2007.07.009|
|5.||↵||The hot hand fallacy and the gambler’s fallacy: two faces of subjective randomness? Ayton P, Fischer I. Mem Cognit. 2004 Dec; 32(8):1369-78.|
|6, 12, 17, 20.||↵||Deyoung CG. The neuromodulator of exploration: A unifying theory of the role of dopamine in personality. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013;7:762. Published 2013 Nov 14. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00762 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3827581|
|7.||↵||Progressive increase in striatal dopamine synthesis capacity as patients develop psychosis: a PET study. Howes O, Bose S, Turkheimer F, Valli I, Egerton A, Stahl D, Valmaggia L, Allen P, Murray R, McGuire P. Mol Psychiatry. 2011 Sep; 16(9):885-6|
|8.||↵||Openness to experience, intellect, schizotypal personality disorder, and psychoticism: resolving the controversy. Chmielewski M, Bagby RM, Markon K, Ring AJ, Ryder AG. J Pers Disord. 2014 Aug; 28(4):483-99.|
|9, 15, 18, 21.||↵||DeYoung C. G., Grazioplene R. G., Peterson J. B. (2012). From madness to genius: the openness/intellect trait domain as a paradoxical simplex. J. Res. Pers. 46, 63–78 10.1016/j.jrp.2011.12.003|
|10.||↵||Implicit learning as an ability. Kaufman SB, Deyoung CG, Gray JR, Jiménez L, Brown J, Mackintosh N. Cognition. 2010 Sep; 116(3):321-40.|
|11.||↵||The relation between latent inhibition and symptom-types in young schizophrenics. Cohen E, Sereni N, Kaplan O, Weizman A, Kikinzon L, Weiner I, Lubow RE. Behav Brain Res. 2004 Mar 2; 149(2):113-22.|
|13.||↵||Schizotypy trait and striatal dopamine receptors in healthy volunteers. Chen KC, Lee IH, Yeh TL, Chiu NT, Chen PS, Yang YK, Lu RB, Chen CC. Psychiatry Res. 2012 Mar 31; 201(3):218-21.|
|14.||↵||Psychosis as a state of aberrant salience: a framework linking biology, phenomenology, and pharmacology in schizophrenia. Kapur S. Am J Psychiatry. 2003 Jan; 160(1):13-23.|
|16.||↵||Kwapil TR, Barrantes-Vidal N. Schizotypy: looking back and moving forward. Schizophr Bull. 2015;41 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):S366–S373. doi:10.1093/schbul/sbu186 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4373633|
|19.||↵||The dopamine hypothesis of schizophrenia: version III–the final common pathway. Howes OD, Kapur S. Schizophr Bull. 2009 May; 35(3):549-62.|
|22, 24.||↵||Initial construction of a maladaptive personality trait model and inventory for DSM-5. Krueger RF, Derringer J, Markon KE, Watson D, Skodol AE. Psychol Med. 2012 Sep; 42(9):1879-90.|
|23.||↵||Harkness A. R., McNulty J. L., Ben-Porath Y. S. (1995). The personality psychopathology five (PSY-5): constructs and MMPI-2 scales. Psychol. Assess. 7, 104 10.1037/1040-35188.8.131.52|
|25.||↵||Zuckerman M. (2005). Psychobiology Of Personality, 2nd Edn., Revised, And Updat,Ed. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press; 10.1017/CBO9780511813733|
|26.||↵||The multidimensionality of schizotypy. Vollema MG, van den Bosch RJ. Schizophr Bull. 1995; 21(1):19-31.|
|27.||↵||Effects of d-amphetamine and haloperidol on latent inhibition in healthy male volunteers. Kumari V, Cotter PA, Mulligan OF, Checkley SA, Gray NS, Hemsley DR, Thornton JC, Corr PJ, Toone BK, Gray JA. J Psychopharmacol. 1999 Dec; 13(4):398-405.|