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Neuropsychologia. 2007 Jun 18;45(11):2580-8. Epub 2007 Mar 15.

Orienting to social stimuli differentiates social cognitive impairment in autism and schizophrenia.

Author information

  • 1University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Neurodevelopmental Disorders Research Center, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3366, USA. nsasson@email.unc.edu

Abstract

Both autism and schizophrenia feature deficits in aspects of social cognition that may be related to amygdala dysfunction, but it is unclear whether these are similar or different patterns of impairment. We compared the visual scanning patterns and emotion judgments of individuals with autism, individuals with schizophrenia and controls on a task well characterized with respect to amygdala functioning. On this task, eye movements of participants are recorded as they assess emotional content within a series of complex social scenes where faces are either included or digitally erased. Results indicated marked abnormalities in visual scanning for both disorders. Controls increased their gaze on face regions when faces were present to a significantly greater degree than both the autism or schizophrenia groups. While the control and the schizophrenia groups oriented to face regions faster when faces were present compared to when they were absent, the autism group oriented at the same rate in both conditions. The schizophrenia group, meanwhile, exhibited a delay in orienting to face regions across both conditions, although whether anti-psychotic medication contributed to this effect is unclear. These findings suggest that while processing emotional information in social scenes, both individuals with autism and individuals with schizophrenia fixate faces less than controls, although only those with autism fail to orient to faces more rapidly based on the presence of facial information. Autism and schizophrenia may therefore share an abnormality in utilizing facial information for assessing emotional content in social scenes, but differ in the ability to seek out socially relevant cues from complex stimuli. Impairments in social orienting are discussed within the context of evidence suggesting the role of the amygdala in orienting to emotionally meaningful information.

PMID:
17459428
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2128257
Free PMC Article

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