Thirty-four schizophrenic patients in an acute in-patient hospital were compared with 24 in-patients with major affective disorder and 19 non-patient controls on a role-play test of social skills and a test of affect perception. The role-play test consisted of 12 simulated conversations in which the subject was confronted by parents and friends expressing high-EE criticism or non-critical dissatisfaction. Schizophrenic patients lacked assertiveness and social skills in all conditions, but they did not show any differential impairment when presented with high EE. They consistently lied and denied errors rather than responding assertively or apologising, whether confronted with high-EE or benign criticisms. On the affect perception test, schizophrenic patients consistently underestimated the intensity or negativeness of negative emotions, but they were not deficient in perception of positive emotional displays. The data do not support the hypothesis that schizophrenic patients are poor at dealing with high-EE behaviours, but do indicate that their ability to cope with even mild negative affect is impaired. Possible explanations for this impairment include limited attentional capacity, a neurologically based perceptual deficit, and a self-protective mechanism to reduce or avoid stress.