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.
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