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Numerous studies have reported links between theory of mind (ToM) deficits, neurocognition and negative symptoms with functional outcome in chronic schizophrenia patients. Although the ToM deficit has been observed in first-episode patients, fewer studies have addressed ToM as a possible trait marker, neurocognitive and symptom correlations longitudinally, and associations with later functioning.
Recent-onset schizophrenia patients (n = 77) were assessed at baseline after reaching medication stabilization, and again at 6 months (n = 48). Healthy controls (n = 21) were screened, and demographically comparable with the patients. ToM was assessed with a Social Animations Task (SAT), in which the participants’ descriptions of scenes depicting abstract visual stimuli ‘interacting’ in three conditions (ToM, goal directed and random) were rated for degree of intentionality attributed to the figures and for appropriateness. Neurocognition, symptoms and role functioning were also assessed.
On the SAT, patients had lower scores than controls for both intentionality (p < 0.01) and appropriateness (p < 0.01) during the ToM condition, at baseline and 6 months. The ToM deficit was stable and present even in remitted patients. Analyses at baseline and 6 months indicated that for patients, ToM intentionality and appropriateness were significantly correlated with neurocognition, negative symptoms and role functioning. The relationship between ToM and role functioning was mediated by negative symptoms.
The ToM deficit was found in recent-onset schizophrenia patients and appears to be moderately trait-like. ToM is also moderately correlated with neurocognition, negative and positive symptoms, and role functioning. ToM appears to influence negative symptoms which in turn makes an impact on role functioning.
Although several aspects of emotion seem to be intact in schizophrenia, there is emerging evidence that patients show an impaired ability to adaptively regulate their emotions. This event-related potential (ERP) study examined whether schizophrenia is associated with impaired neural responses to appraisal frames, that is when negative stimuli are presented in a less negative context.
Thirty-one schizophrenia out-patients and 27 healthy controls completed a validated picture-viewing task with three conditions: (1) neutral pictures preceded by neutral descriptions (‘Neutral’), (2) unpleasant pictures preceded by negative descriptions (‘Preappraised negative’), and (3) unpleasant pictures preceded by more neutral descriptions (‘Preappraised neutral’). Analyses focused on the late positive potential (LPP), an index of facilitated attention to emotional stimuli that is reduced following cognitive emotion regulation strategies, during four time windows from 300 to 2000 ms post-picture onset.
Replicating prior studies, controls showed smaller LPP in Preappraised neutral and Neutral versus Preappraised negative conditions throughout the 300–2000-ms time period. By contrast, patients showed (a) larger LPP in Preappraised neutral and Preappraised negative versus Neutral conditions in the initial period (300–600 ms) and (b) an atypical pattern of larger LPP to Preappraised neutral versus Preappraised negative and Neutral conditions in the 600–1500-ms epochs.
Modulation of neural responses by a cognitive emotion regulation strategy seems to be impaired in schizophrenia during the first 2 s after exposure to unpleasant stimuli.
Accurate monitoring and integration of both internal and external feedback is crucial for guiding current and future behavior. These aspects of performance monitoring are commonly indexed by two event-related potential (ERP) components: error-related negativity (ERN) and feedback negativity (FN). The ERN indexes internal response monitoring and is sensitive to the commission of erroneous versus correct responses, and the FN indexes external feedback monitoring of positive versus negative outcomes. Although individuals with schizophrenia consistently demonstrate a diminished ERN, the integrity of the FN has received minimal consideration.
The current research sought to clarify the scope of feedback processing impairments in schizophrenia in two studies: study 1 examined the ERN elicited in a flanker task in 16 out-patients and 14 healthy controls; study 2 examined the FN on a simple monetary gambling task in expanded samples of 35 out-patients and 33 healthy controls.
Study 1 replicated prior reports of an impaired ERN in schizophrenia. By contrast, patients and controls demonstrated comparable FN differentiation between reward and non-reward feedback in study 2.
The differential pattern across tasks suggests that basic sensitivity to external feedback indicating reward versus non-reward is intact in schizophrenia, at least under the relatively simple task conditions used in this study. Further efforts to specify intact and impaired reward-processing subcomponents in schizophrenia may help to shed light on the diminished motivation and goal-seeking behavior that are commonly seen in this disorder.
Early visual processing deficits are reliably detected in schizophrenia and show relationships to poor real-world functioning. However, the nature of this relationship is complex. Theoretical models and recent studies using statistical modeling approaches suggest that multiple intervening factors are involved. We previously reported that a direct and significant association between visual processing and functional status was mediated by a measure of social perception. The present study examined the contribution of negative symptoms to this model.
We employed structural equation modeling (sem) to test several models of outcome, using data from 174 schizophrenia out-patients. Specifically, we examined the direct and indirect relative contributions of early visual processing, social perception and negative symptoms to functional outcome.
First, we found that, similar to social perception, a measure of negative symptoms mediated the association between visual information processing and functional status. Second, we found that the inclusion of negative symptoms substantially enhanced the explanatory power of the model. Notably, it was the experiential aspect of negative symptoms (avolition and anhedonia) more than the expressive aspect (affective flattening and alogia) that accounted for significant variance in functional outcome, especially in the social component of the construct of functional outcome.
Social perception and negative symptoms play relevant roles in functional impairment in schizophrenia. Both social perception and negative symptoms statistically mediate the connection between visual processing and functional outcome. However, given the lack of association between social perception and negative symptoms, these constructs appear to have an impact on functioning through separate pathways.
Interpersonal communication problems are common among persons with schizophrenia and may be linked, in part, to deficits in theory of mind (ToM), the ability to accurately perceive the attitudes, beliefs and intentions of others. Particular difficulties might be expected in the processing of counterfactual information such as sarcasm or lies.
The present study included 50 schizophrenia or schizo-affective out-patients and 44 demographically comparable healthy adults who were administered Part III of The Awareness of Social Inference Test (TASIT; a measure assessing comprehension of sarcasm versus lies) as well as measures of positive and negative symptoms and community functioning.
TASIT data were analyzed using a 2 (group: patients versus healthy adults)×2 (condition: sarcasm versus lie) repeated-measures ANOVA. The results show significant effects for group, condition, and the group×condition interaction. Compared to controls, patients performed significantly worse on sarcasm but not lie scenes. Within-group contrasts showed that patients performed significantly worse on sarcasm versus lie scenes; controls performed comparably on both. In patients, performance on TASIT showed a significant correlation with positive, but not negative, symptoms. The group and interaction effects remained significant when rerun with a subset of patients with low-level positive symptoms. The findings for a relationship between TASIT performance and community functioning were essentially negative.
The findings replicate a prior demonstration of difficulty in the comprehension of sarcasm using a different test, but are not consistent with previous studies showing global ToM deficits in schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia patients show disturbances on a range of tasks that assess mentalizing or ‘Theory of Mind’ (ToM). However, these tasks are often developmentally inappropriate, make large demands on verbal abilities and explicit problem-solving skills, and involve after-the-fact reflection as opposed to spontaneous mentalizing.
To address these limitations, 55 clinically stable schizophrenia out-patients and 44 healthy controls completed a validated Animations Task designed to assess spontaneous attributions of social meaning to ambiguous abstract visual stimuli. In this paradigm, 12 animations depict two geometric shapes ‘interacting’ with each other in three conditions: (1) ToM interactions that elicit attributions of mental states to the agents, (2) Goal-Directed (GD) interactions that elicit attributions of simple actions, and (3) Random scenes in which no interaction occurs. Verbal descriptions of each animation are rated for the degree of Intentionality attributed to the agents and for accuracy.
Patients had lower Intentionality ratings than controls for ToM and GD scenes but the groups did not significantly differ for Random scenes. The descriptions of the patients less closely matched the situations intended by the developers of the task. Within the schizophrenia group, performance on the Animations Task showed minimal associations with clinical symptoms.
Patients demonstrated disturbances in the spontaneous attribution of mental states to abstract visual stimuli that normally evoke such attributions. Hence, in addition to previously established impairment on mentalizing tasks that require logical inferences about others' mental states, individuals with schizophrenia show disturbances in implicit aspects of mentalizing.
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