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Anticipatory pleasure deficits are closely correlated with negative symptoms in schizophrenia, and may be found in both clinical and subclinical populations along the psychosis continuum. Prospection, which is an important component of anticipatory pleasure, is impaired in individuals with social anhedonia (SocAnh). In this study, we examined the neural correlates of envisioning positive future events in individuals with SocAnh.
Forty-nine individuals with SocAnh and 33 matched controls were recruited to undergo functional MRI scanning, during which they were instructed to simulate positive or neutral future episodes according to cue words. Two stages of prospection were distinguished: construction and elaboration.
Reduced activation at the caudate and the precuneus when prospecting positive (v. neutral) future events was observed in individuals with SocAnh. Furthermore, compared with controls, increased functional connectivity between the caudate and the inferior occipital gyrus during positive (v. neutral) prospection was found in individuals with SocAnh. Both groups exhibited a similar pattern of brain activation for the construction v. elaboration contrast, regardless of the emotional context.
Our results provide further evidence on the neural mechanism of anticipatory pleasure deficits in subclinical individuals with SocAnh and suggest that altered cortico-striatal circuit may play a role in anticipatory pleasure deficits in these individuals.
The neuropsychological origins of negative syndrome of schizophrenia remain elusive. Evidence from behavioural studies, which utilised emotion-inducing pictures to elicit motivated behaviour generally reported that that schizophrenia patients experienced similar affective experience as healthy individuals but failed to translate emotional salience to motivated behaviour, a phenomenon called emotion–behaviour decoupling. However, a few studies have examined emotion–behaviour decoupling in non-psychotic high-risk populations, who are relatively unaffected by medication effects.
In this study, we examined the nature and extent of emotion–behaviour decoupling in in three independent samples (65 schizophrenia patients v. 63 controls; 40 unaffected relatives v. 45 controls; and 32 individuals with social anhedonia v. 32 controls). We administered an experimental task to examine their affective experience and its coupling with behaviour, using emotion-inducing slides, and allowed participants to alter stimulus exposure using button-pressing to seek pleasure or avoid aversion.
Schizophrenia patients reported similar affective experiences as their controls, while their unaffected relatives and individuals with high levels of social anhedonia exhibited attenuated affective experiences, in particular in the arousal aspect. Compared with their respective control groups, all of the three groups showed emotion–behaviour decoupling.
Our findings support that both genetically and behaviourally high-risk groups exhibit emotion–behaviour decoupling. The familial association apparently supports its role as a putative trait marker for schizophrenia.
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