Association of impaired facial affect recognition with basic facial and visual processing deficits in schizophrenia

Daniel Norton, Ryan McBain, Daphne J Holt, Dost Ongur, Yue Chen
Biological Psychiatry 2009 June 15, 65 (12): 1094-8

BACKGROUND: Impaired emotion recognition has been reported in schizophrenia, yet the nature of this impairment is not completely understood. Recognition of facial emotion depends on processing affective and nonaffective facial signals, as well as basic visual attributes. We examined whether and how poor facial emotion recognition in schizophrenia is related to basic visual processing and nonaffective face recognition.

METHODS: Schizophrenia patients (n = 32) and healthy control subjects (n = 29) performed emotion discrimination, identity discrimination, and visual contrast detection tasks, where the emotionality, distinctiveness of identity, or visual contrast was systematically manipulated. Subjects determined which of two presentations in a trial contained the target: the emotional face for emotion discrimination, a specific individual for identity discrimination, and a sinusoidal grating for contrast detection.

RESULTS: Patients had significantly higher thresholds (worse performance) than control subjects for discriminating both fearful and happy faces. Furthermore, patients' poor performance in fear discrimination was predicted by performance in visual detection and face identity discrimination.

CONCLUSIONS: Schizophrenia patients require greater emotional signal strength to discriminate fearful or happy face images from neutral ones. Deficient emotion recognition in schizophrenia does not appear to be determined solely by affective processing but is also linked to the processing of basic visual and facial information.

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