Schizophrenia refers to a complex group of disorders that affect thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Changes in the brain are one factor contributing to how the condition develops.

Schizophrenia is a serious mental health condition that affects how people think, feel, and behave. It can cause people to experience a disassociation from reality and symptoms that include hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thoughts.

The American Psychiatric Association estimates that less than 1% of the United States population has schizophrenia. The condition causes symptoms that can have a serious effect on someone’s capacity to perform daily activities.

There is an association between several brain abnormalities and schizophrenia. This article discusses which brain regions schizophrenia might affect, its symptoms, and risk factors.

A silhouette of a person's head and shoulders surrounded by waves of red light. Schizophrenia may affect certain parts of a person's brain.Share on Pinterest
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Several studies — discussed below — have found differences in the brains of people with and without schizophrenia.

These studies indicate that schizophrenia may affect brain structure and function, that some of these structural changes increase the risk of someone developing the condition, or both.

Frontal, temporal, and thalamus regions

A 2018 study compared brain imaging data from around 4,500 people with schizophrenia to around 5,000 people without the condition. Researchers found that people with schizophrenia have thinner cortexes and show the largest differences in the frontal and temporal lobes.

The frontal lobe is the largest of the brain’s four regions in the cerebral cortex (the outer layer of the brain). It is responsible for vital functions, including:

  • memory
  • judgment
  • motor tasks, such as voluntary movement
  • social appropriateness

The temporal lobe is another of the four major lobes. It plays a vital role in functions such as:

  • auditory stimuli
  • memory
  • emotions

A 2017 review also found that several brain areas, such as the frontal regions and the thalamus, became smaller over time in people with schizophrenia. The thalamus is an egg-shaped structure in the brain that functions as a sensory information relay center.

Learn more about the parts and functions of the human brain.

White matter

White matter is important for connecting brain regions and allowing the brain to communicate internally.

A 2017 study found that people with schizophrenia have a reduction in white matter throughout the brain compared with those without the condition.

Brain aging

People with schizophrenia may experience increased brain aging.

A large study in 2022 compared brain imaging data from almost 3,000 people with schizophrenia with around 2,500 people without the condition. Researchers found that the brains of people with schizophrenia appeared to be around 3.5 years older than those without.

Learn more about what happens to the brain as we age.

The causes of schizophrenia are currently unclear, and more research is needed to better understand whether certain brain regions cause schizophrenia.

However, the National Institute of Mental Health suggests that a combination of the following factors may increase the risk of schizophrenia:

  • Genetics: People with a family history of schizophrenia are at higher risk of the condition. However, schizophrenia is still rare, and the chances of people developing the condition are low, even with family members who have it.
  • Environment: Certain life experiences may also increase the risk of schizophrenia, such as trauma, poverty, and viral exposure.
  • Brain structure and function: Differences in some brain areas could increase the risk of schizophrenia.

Some people with schizophrenia experience hallucinations. Hallucinations involve experiencing or sensing things that are not present. This could include seeing people who are not there or hearing voices that are not present.

A 2021 study suggests that several brain regions may be responsible for hallucinations. These regions are spread throughout the brain but generally connect through a specific network that includes the cerebellum and right superior temporal sulcus (a brain region important for aspects of social cognition).

Disordered thinking is another symptom that some people with schizophrenia experience. It refers to thought patterns that are convoluted and nonsensical. For example, someone may switch topics in the middle of a sentence.

A 2018 study in Schizophrenia Research reviewed data from 61 studies and found that disordered thinking may relate to changes in certain brain regions, such as parts of the frontal and temporal lobes and the parietal lobe (another major lobe that processes sensory information related to touch, taste, and temperature).

A psychiatrist will diagnose schizophrenia by reviewing a person’s medical and psychiatric history and symptoms.

They will ask about experiences and symptoms using a clinical questionnaire. People typically need to have two of the following symptoms persist over a month to receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia:

  • delusions
  • hallucinations
  • disorganized speech and thoughts
  • movement disorders
  • reduced ability to function, such as not washing

At least one symptom must be delusions, hallucinations, or disorganized speech and thinking for someone to have the condition.

Doctors may use additional tests, such as blood tests or MRI scans, to rule out other conditions.

Learn more about the types of schizophrenia.

It is not always possible to prevent schizophrenia. Some of the risk factors for schizophrenia are predetermined, such as genetics. However, it may be possible to influence the risk posed by environmental factors.

In some cases, this may require widescale social changes, such as reducing poverty. In other cases, individuals could take action, such as ensuring that a baby has sufficient nutrition in their diet and is protected from viruses.

While preventing schizophrenia is not always possible, research increasingly shows that early intervention can help stop the condition from worsening.

Learn more about the stages of schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that affects thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. The condition causes various symptoms, including hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking and speech.

Several brain regions are different in people with schizophrenia compared with those without the condition, such as the frontal lobes. These regions may change the longer someone has the condition and cause worsening symptoms.

Research is ongoing to determine how brain changes might increase the risk or severity of schizophrenia.