Everything you need to know about thought disorder

What Is Thought Disorder?

Formal thought disorder is a disorganized way of thinking which leads to divergent ways of expressing language when speaking and writing. It is one of the key symptoms of schizophrenia.

It is one of the most strenuous disorders to diagnose and treat, as many people exhibit symptoms of thought disorder occasionally. Some individuals may show symptoms of thought disorder only when they’re tired.


Thought disorder first appeared in scientific literature in the 1980’s Trusted Source, when it was first described as a symptom of schizophrenia. Each thought disorder has unique symptoms. However, a distortion in the interconnectivity of ideas is present in all types.

It is common for most people to show some of the symptoms of thought disorder occasionally. Thought disorder isn’t grouped until it negatively affects the ability to communicate.
Here are some common symptoms of thought disorder:

  • Confusing speech or thought
  • Lack of facial expressions and emotions
  • Social anxiety
  • Hallucinations or delusions

Types of thought disorder

  • Alogia: Alogia is better known as poverty of speech. People diagnosed with it give brief and unelaborated responses to questions. They rarely speak unless they are prompted. Alogia is observed in people with dementia or schizophrenia.
  • Blocking: Individuals with thought blocking often interrupt themselves abruptly before completing a sentence. They may pause for several seconds or minutes. They often change the topic of conversation before they start talking again. Thought blocking is very common in people with schizophrenia.
  • Circumstantiality: People with circumstantiality, often provide excessive irrelevant details in their communication. When maintaining their original train of thoughts they end up providing a lot of unnecessary details before coming back to their main point.
  • Clanging or clang association: An individual with a clanging thought process makes word choices based on the sound of the word rather than the actual meaning of the word. They may rely on using rhymes, and create sentences that are inconsistent. Clanging thought processes is the most common symptom of mania.
  • Derailment: A person with derailment converses in chains of only semi-related ideas. Their ideas deviate from the topic of conversation.
  • Distractible speech: A person with distractible speech thought disorder has trouble speaking on a given topic. They shift quickly between random topics. It is generally seen in people with mania.
  • Echolalia: People with echolalia struggle to communicate. Instead of expressing their thoughts they often repeat noises and words they hear. For example, instead of answering a question, they repeat the question.

Other types of thought disorder include:

  • Paraphasic error: It includes constant word mispronunciation or slips of the tongue.
  • Stilted speech: Stilted speech is using unusual language that’s overly formal or outdated.
  • Perseveration: It leads to a repetition of ideas and words.
  • Loss of goal: In this individuals have a trouble maintaining a topic and an inability to arrive at a point.
  • Neologism: Creating new words.
  • Incoherence: People speak in random collections of words, known as “word salad”

What causes thought disorder?

The cause of thought disorder isn’t well known. Thought disorder isn’t a symptom of any particular disorderTrusted Source, but it’s commonly seen in people with schizophrenia and other mental health conditions.

The cause of schizophrenia isn’t known exactly, but it is thought that biological, genetic, and environmental factors are the major contributors.

The symptoms of thought disorder vary widely, so it’s difficult to find the root cause. Researchers are still debating about what might lead to the symptoms of thought disorder.

Some think it might be caused due to changes in language-related parts of the brain, while some think it could be caused due to problems in more general parts of the brain.

When to see a doctor?

It is common for people to show symptoms of thought disorder occasionally. Moreover if these symptoms are severe enough it’s a good idea to speak with a doctor.

People are often unaware of their symptoms and need help from a family member or friend. If you notice any symptoms of schizophrenia in somebody you know, encourage them to see a doctor.
These symptoms may include: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking or speech, neglecting personal hygiene, lack of emotion, lack of facial expression, withdrawing from social life.

Thought disorder test and diagnosis

While diagnosing thought disorder, a therapist will consider a person’s intelligence, culture, and education to see if they’re acting inconsistently.

Thought disorder treatment

The types of treatment available are medication and psychotherapy.

  • Medication: Anti-psychotic medication can be prescribed depending on the cause of thought disorder. These medications balance out the brain chemical dopamine and serotonin.
  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy helps people replace their thoughts with more realistic ones and teaches them ways to manage an illness.
    Cognitive behavior therapy is a form of psychotherapy, and cognitive enhancement therapy may both be beneficial for people with schizophrenia.


Thought disorder is an unorganized way of thinking that leads to unusual speech and writing. Those with thought disorder have trouble communicating with others and may have trouble recognizing that they have an issue.

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