Deficits in implicit attention to social signals in schizophrenia and high risk groups: Behavioural evidence from a new illusion

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BACKGROUND: An increasing body of evidence suggests that the apparent social impairments observed in schizophrenia may arise from deficits in social cognitive processing capacities. The ability to process basic social cues, such as gaze direction and biological motion, effortlessly and implicitly is thought to be a prerequisite for establishing successful social interactions and for construing a sense of "social intuition." However, studies that address the ability to effortlessly process basic social cues in schizophrenia are lacking. Because social cognitive processing deficits may be part of the genetic vulnerability for schizophrenia, we also investigated two groups that have been shown to be at increased risk of developing schizophrenia-spectrum pathology: first-degree relatives of schizophrenia patients and men with Klinefelter syndrome (47,XXY).<br /><br />RESULTS: We compared 28 patients with schizophrenia, 29 siblings of patients with schizophrenia, and 29 individuals with Klinefelter syndrome with 46 matched healthy control subjects on a new paradigm. This paradigm measures one's susceptibility for a bias in distance estimation between two agents that is induced by the implicit processing of gaze direction and biological motion conveyed by these agents. Compared to control subjects, patients with schizophrenia, as well as siblings of patients and Klinefelter men, showed a lack of influence of social cues on their distance judgments.<br /><br />CONCLUSIONS: We suggest that the insensitivity for social cues is a cognitive aspect of schizophrenia that may be seen as an endophenotype as it appears to be present both in relatives who are at increased genetic risk and in a genetic disorder at risk for schizophrenia-spectrum psychopathology. These social cue-processing deficits could contribute, in part, to the difficulties in higher order social cognitive tasks and, hence, to decreased social competence that has been observed in these groups.




van’t Wout, M., van Rijn, S., Jellema, T., Kahn, R. S., & Aleman, A. (2009). Deficits in implicit attention to social signals in schizophrenia and high risk groups: Behavioural evidence from a new illusion. PLoS ONE, 4(5).

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