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How negative symptoms of schizophrenia impact on the recognition of facial expressions

MARCH 11, 2008

Dr Panayiota Michalopoulou is the lead author of a research report from the CSI Lab at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, using fMRI to investigate the changes in brain responses to fearful faces in schizophrenia.

Patients with schizophrenia have pronounced difficulties in recognising emotion and particular fear in others’ faces. Poor emotion recognition may contribute to difficulties in interpersonal interactions of the patients and may also impact the functional outcome of the disease. Negative symptoms of schizophrenia, which reflect a loss of normal functioning and include apathy, lack of emotion, lack of volition and drive and poor social functioning, may worsen the difficulties of the patients in recognition of facial fear.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activation to neutral and fearful facial expressions in patients with schizophrenia and healthy volunteers. Brain responses within the amygdala and visual cortices were reduced in patients with schizophrenia. Moreover, the activation within superior temporal gyrus in patients with schizophrenia was negatively correlated with the severity of negative symptoms of the patients. This finding indicates an association between impaired cortical visual processing of facial fear and negative symptoms in patients with schizophrenia. This association may underlie the pronounced difficulties of patients with schizophrenia and high levels of negative symptoms in the recognition of fearful faces.

The paper Facial fear processing and psychotic symptoms in schizophrenia: functional magnetic resonance imaging study is published in The British Journal of Psychiatry Volume 192, Issue 3 (March 2008), pp 191-196. The authors are: Michalopoulou PG, Surguladze S, Morley LA, Giampietro VP, Murray RM, and Shergill SS.
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