Some of the symptoms of schizophrenia include delusions, mood fluctuations, and impaired social functioning. One of the reasons social interactions are challenging for people with schizophrenia is the way in which facial expressions are processed. Specifically, it is theorized that schizophrenia deteriorates the recognition processes of individuals and makes it more difficult for them to distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar faces. This can cause significant social struggles because accurately perceiving the facial expressions of others is how people determine their reactions to them. It is also how people decide which faces are threatening and which are safe.
Fabrice Guillaume of the Laboratory of Cognitive Psychology at Aix-Marseille University in France recently led a study that explored facial recognition in individuals with schizophrenia in order to get a better idea of impairments that occurred and why. Guillaume assessed 20 individuals with schizophrenia and 20 without as they evaluated the familiarity of facial expressions. The electrophysiological (ERP) responses of the participants were monitored as a set of faces was presented with expression changes, without expression changes, and then, finally, new faces were presented. Guillaume discovered that when the expressions changed, the participants with schizophrenia did not recognize them as familiar, even though they had seen the faces before.
The participants with schizophrenia also had a hard time distinguishing between familiar faces with new expressions and unfamiliar faces. “This result suggests that patients with schizophrenia are more sensitive to the expression change and appears to be inconsistent with studies showing spared familiarity in schizophrenia,” Guillaume said. The findings could be interpreted to indicate a broader, more global perception of faces occurs in schizophrenia, and that individuals with schizophrenia have an impaired ability to retrieve the global perception when perceptual nuances, such as expressions, occur. In sum, the results of this study reveal that people with schizophrenia can experience facial recognition deficits, which can have a dramatic impact on social interactions, even when they try to identify faces familiar to them.
Guillaume, Fabrice, Francois Guillem, Guy Tiberghien, and Emmanuel Stip. Mismatched expressions decrease face recognition and corresponding ERP old/new effects in schizophrenia. Neuropsychology 26.5 (2012): 568-77. Print.
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