Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2015

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Psychology & Neuroscience

First Advisor

Vijay A. Mittal

Second Advisor

Joanna Arch

Third Advisor

Lorraine Bayard de Volo


A growing body of etiological research suggests that prenatal insult or injury can create a biological vulnerability for developing psychosis. When combined with genetic and environmental factors, these biological vulnerabilities can increase an individual’s chances of developing a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia. One marker of prenatal insult or injury that has been widely researched in schizophrenia, but not in ultrahigh-risk (UHR) populations, is dermatoglyphics, epidermal ridge patterns that form on fingerprints and palms. Dermatoglyphics form during weeks 14-22 of fetal development, a critical time for the formation of the central nervous system (CNS). One specific neural structure that is of interest in the context of psychosis is the hippocampus, as its structure and function has been implicated across the psychosis spectrum. Further, hippocampal function is implicated in working memory deficits characteristic of individuals with psychosis, and the structure is highly sensitive during the prenatal period. In the present study, dermatoglyphics, symptoms, and cognitive data were collected on 59 UHR and 60 healthy control adolescents. The present study found elevated dermatoglyphic asymmetries within the UHR group as compared to healthy controls. No significant group differences were found in a spatial working memory task. However, elevated dermatoglyphic asymmetries were significantly associated with lower spatial working memory scores and increased attenuated symptoms but not with a more general measure of intelligence (recruiting from structures outside of the medial temporal region). The present study provides insight into prenatal vulnerabilities of a given UHR sample, and additionally supports a neural diathesis-stress model of psychosis.