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Patients with schizophrenia show increased aversion to angry faces in an associative learning task

  • S. Evans (a1), S. S. Shergill (a2), V. Chouhan (a2), E. Bristow (a2), T. Collier (a2) and B. B. Averbeck (a1) (a3)...



We were interested in examining the relationship between socially relevant stimuli and decision processes in patients with schizophrenia.


We tested patients with schizophrenia and healthy controls on a stochastically rewarded associative learning task. Participants had to determine, through trial and error, which of two faces was associated with a higher chance of reward: one face was angry, the other happy.


Both patients and healthy controls were able to perform the task at above-chance accuracy, and there was no significant difference in overall accuracy between the groups. Both groups also reliably preferred the happy face, such that they selected it more often than the angry face on the basis of the same amount of positive versus negative feedback. However, patients were significantly more averse to the angry face, such that they chose it less often than control participants when the reward feedback strongly supported the angry face as the best choice.


Patients show an increased aversion to angry faces, in a task in which they must learn to associate rewards with expressions.


Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: B. B. Averbeck, Ph.D., Laboratory of Neuropsychology, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA. (Email:


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