Thought blocking

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Thought blocking is a neuropsychological symptom expressing a sudden and involuntary silence within a speech, and eventually an abrupt switch to another topic. [1]


When thought blocking, some people may express themselves in a manner that is not understandable to others. They may repeat words involuntarily or make up new words.[ citation needed ]

When doctors diagnose thought blocking they consider a variety of causes, such as schizophrenia, anxiety, petit mal seizures, dissociation, bradyphrenia, aphasia, dementia or delirium. [2]


Thought blocking occurs most often in people with psychiatric illnesses, most commonly schizophrenia. [3] A person's speech is suddenly interrupted by silences that may last a few seconds to a minute or longer. [4] [5] When the person begins speaking again, after the block, they will often speak about an unrelated subject. Blocking is also described as an experience of unanticipated, quick and total emptying of the mind. [6] People with schizophrenia commonly experience thought blocking and may interpret the experience in peculiar ways. [6] For example, a person with schizophrenia might remark that another person has removed their thoughts from their brain. [6]

When evaluating a patient for schizophrenia, a physician may look for thought blocking. [7] In schizophrenia, patients experience two types of symptoms: positive and negative. Positive symptoms include behavior added on to a person's daily functioning. For instance, delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, disorganized behavior and thought are all positive symptoms. In contrast, negative symptoms are characterized by missing parts of the average individual's persona, including flat affect, apathy, speaking very little, not finding enjoyment in any activity, and not attending to basic acts of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing, eating, and wearing clean clothes.


Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is defined as excessive worry about matters in two or more separate subjects for at least six months. [8] When a person experiences an anxiety attack, they may become so hyperfocused on the distressing stimuli and/or overwhelmed with the situation that regular speech is difficult for that person to produce. The thought blocking that occurs in this instance is usually short lived because anxiety attacks are transient. After an episode occurs, a person is typically able to resume their normal way of speaking.


Thought blocking is associated with petit mal seizure. As such, it can be hard for people to organize their speech, resulting in thought blocking. [9]

Dissociation and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur after a person experiences a traumatic event and is significantly handicapped because of it, and can develop inappropriate coping strategies. [10] These maladaptive approaches can include, but are not limited to, dissociative symptoms: depersonalization and derealization. When these dissociative symptoms surface, they can be extremely intrusive and result in a person not being able to focus on their diction, or manner of speaking, and result in thought blocking. People with PTSD may find that blocking of thought occurs more often if they have not addressed the source of their PTSD. [ citation needed ]

Cognitive & Motor Disorder

In older adults, blocking of thought can be a feature of several cognitive and motor disorders, including underlying dementia and delirium. It is common that as a person ages, they may become forgetful and/or lose their train of thought. When it becomes more persistent and affects one's ability to carry out their ADLs (activities of daily living), a major neurocognitive disorder like dementia is among the possible causes. [11] In addition, thought blocking can occur in patients with parkinsonism, a disorder that features slowing of movement, muscle rigidity, and impairment. The distinguishing feature between parkinsonism and Parkinson's disease is that the causes of parkinsonism are numerous, including drugs, toxins, metabolic disorders, and head trauma. [12] Furthermore, a stroke can result in a disordered speech process such as thought blocking. [2] When a stroke affects the middle cerebral artery (MCA), it can result in damage to the Wernicke's area or Broca's area. As such, people afflicted can understand speech well but have problems saying the words they want to, or be able to speak but have nonsensical syntax and word choice. These symptoms are referred to as aphasias, and aphasias can present with thought blocking. [2]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Catatonia</span> Psychiatric behavioral syndrome

Catatonia is a complex neuropsychiatric behavioral syndrome that is characterized by abnormal movements, immobility, abnormal behaviors, and withdrawal. The onset of catatonia can be acute or subtle and symptoms can wax, wane, or change during episodes. It has historically been related to schizophrenia, catatonia is most often seen in mood disorders. It is now known that catatonic symptoms are nonspecific and may be observed in other mental, neurological, and medical conditions. Catatonia is not a stand-alone diagnosis, and the term is used to describe a feature of the underlying disorder.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Psychosis</span> Abnormal condition of the mind

Psychosis is a condition of the mind that results in difficulties determining what is real and what is not real. Symptoms may include delusions and hallucinations, among other features. Additional symptoms are incoherent speech and behavior that is inappropriate for a given situation. There may also be sleep problems, social withdrawal, lack of motivation, and difficulties carrying out daily activities. Psychosis can have serious adverse outcomes.

Dissociative identity disorder (DID), previously named multiple personality disorder and commonly referred to as split personality disorder or dissociative personality disorder, is a member of the family of dissociative disorders classified by the DSM-V, DSM-V-TR, ICD 10, ICD 11, and Merck Manual for diagnosis. Dissociative identity disorder is characterized by primarily dissociative disorder symptoms, secondary key symptoms are shared with complex PTSD, borderline and schizotypal personality disorders and tertiary key symptoms are shared with fibromyalgia, sleep disturbances, eating disorders, and body dysmorphic symptoms. Personality states alternately show in a person's behavior; however, presentations of the disorder vary. Dissociative identity disorder is usually caused by excessive and unendurable stress and or trauma, which commonly happens in childhood. The sense of a unified Identity develops from a variety of experiences and sources. In a child who is overwhelmed, the factors that should have blended together or become integrated overtime instead remain separate. Childhood adversity and abuse often leads to the development of dissociative identity disorder, but not exclusively.

A communication disorder is any disorder that affects an individual's ability to comprehend, detect, or apply language and speech to engage in dialogue effectively with others. The delays and disorders can range from simple sound substitution to the inability to understand or use one's native language.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hypochondriasis</span> Medical condition

Hypochondriasis or hypochondria is a condition in which a person is excessively and unduly worried about having a serious illness. Hypochondria is an old concept whose meaning has repeatedly changed over its lifespan. It has been claimed that this debilitating condition results from an inaccurate perception of the condition of body or mind despite the absence of an actual medical diagnosis. An individual with hypochondriasis is known as a hypochondriac. Hypochondriacs become unduly alarmed about any physical or psychological symptoms they detect, no matter how minor the symptom may be, and are convinced that they have, or are about to be diagnosed with, a serious illness.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thought disorder</span> Disorder of thought form, content or stream

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nightmare disorder</span> Medical condition

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This glossary covers terms found in the psychiatric literature; the word origins are primarily Greek, but there are also Latin, French, German, and English terms. Many of these terms refer to expressions dating from the early days of psychiatry in Europe.

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Childhood schizophrenia is similar in characteristics of schizophrenia that develops at a later age, but has an onset before the age of 13 years, and is more difficult to diagnose. Schizophrenia is characterized by positive symptoms that can include hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized speech; negative symptoms, such as blunted affect and avolition and apathy, and a number of cognitive impairments. Differential diagnosis is problematic since several other neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder, language disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also have signs and symptoms similar to childhood-onset schizophrenia.

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