Emotional Processing Deficit Found in Men at Risk for Schizophrenia

Individuals with schizophrenia often exhibit increased emotional responses compared to people without schizophrenia. However, they also show decreased emotion vocally and facially, usually due to impaired cognitive functioning. Because relatives of people with schizophrenia are at increased risk for developing the illness, researchers from Harvard Medical School conducted a study to see if this vulnerable group of people showed signs of cognitive impairment that could predict the development of schizophrenia. “This group is considered at ‘familial high risk’ (FHR) during the developmental period that includes the peak age of onset of schizophrenia (ages 16 –35) and provides a unique opportunity to study genetic risk for the pathophysiology of schizophrenia,” said Laura K. Phillips, lead author of the study. Various elements that contribute to cognitive functioning have been discovered to be diminished in FHR groups, but until now, the relationship between emotion and cognitive processing has not been examined. “Because at-risk individuals may benefit from early treatment interventions, it is important to more fully characterize their cognitive and emotional abnormalities,” said Phillips.

Phillips and her colleagues used working memory tasks to study the relationship of emotion and cognitive functioning in a group of 21 relatives of people with schizophrenia and 22 control subjects. Because men are more likely to develop the illness earlier than women and experience more severe symptoms, the team theorized that the men in the study would have significantly less cognitive processing abilities than the women. They found that the control subjects and the women all exhibited longer response times for happy stimuli compared to neutral or fearful stimuli. However, the men who were FHR displayed longer response times with the fearful stimuli. “The reduced efficiency in emotion processing by people at FHR highlights the potential importance of affective and social skills training programs for these individuals,” said the team. They added, “In addition, pointing out attention biases toward benign negative information and away from positive, potentially mood-enhancing information, might improve social functioning.”

Phillips, L. K., Giuliano, A. J., Lee, E. H., Faraone, S. V., Tsuang, M. T., & Seidman, L. J. (2011, July 4). Emotion–Cognition Interaction in People at Familial High Risk for Schizophrenia: The Impact of Sex Differences. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0023542

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Vick


    October 3rd, 2011 at 3:45 PM

    Predictor tests to see whether or not you will develop schizophrenia. . . not sure that is something that I want to know ahead of time unless there is some known cure out there for me. Maybe some things are better left not knowing

  • S.T.V


    October 3rd, 2011 at 9:33 PM

    I always feel bad for people who have genetic or familial disorders.I feel like they are affected by the disorder due to their family.Not that the other disorders are people’s own mistakes or something but these disorders somehow evoke a different emotion.

    however,this is a significant finding and it would really help if people go out and get a preventive check done to determine if they could come to have the disorder.

  • Paulette


    October 4th, 2011 at 4:18 AM

    agree that families that know the kinds of health issues that could lie ahead for them must face a very hard road. you see how it affects loved ones, and know that this could be your fate too. must be devastating to know that this could be yours to own too. but to know ahead of time, perhaps there would be some things that you could do, meds or something that could hold it off for a while.

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