Social Perception in Schizophrenia: Evidence of Occipital and Prefrontal Dysfunction
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Individuals with schizophrenia evidence deficits in social functioning such as difficulties in communication, maintaining employment, and functioning as a member of the community. Impairment in functions such as these has been linked with higher order social cognitive deficits, which, in turn, have been associated with abnormalities in brain structure and function. However, it is unclear whether brain abnormalities are found specifically for higher order social cognitive functioning, or whether “lower order” social processing, such as perceiving social stimuli, might demonstrate abnormalities at the neural level. The current study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to explore the neural correlates of social perception in schizophrenia. Individuals with schizophrenia and healthy comparison participants were presented with social (i.e., faces, people) and nonsocial (i.e., scenes, objects) images that varied in affective content (emotional, neutral). Schizophrenia patients showed increased brain activation, compared to controls, in occipital lobe regions associated with early visual processing in response to emotional and neutral social images. They also failed to show prefrontal deactivation that was present in controls in response to neutral social images, which may reflect abnormal default mode activity. Results indicate aberrant neural response during early stages of visual processing of social information, which may contribute to higher order social cognitive deficits characteristic of this population.