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Clin EEG Neurosci. 2008 Apr;39(2):108-11.

Attenuated modulation of the N170 ERP by facial expressions in schizophrenia.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.


In psychiatrically-well subjects the modulation of event related potentials (ERPs) by emotional facial expressions is found in several ERPs from -100 ms and later. A face-related EPR, the N170, is abnormally reduced in schizophrenia to faces relative to other complex objects and research suggests emotional modulation of N170 may be reduced as well. To further examine facial emotion modulation of N170, subjects detected neutral facial expressions from among five emotional expressions (happy, sad, fearful, angry, and disgusted). Over occipitotemporal sites, psychiatrically-well subjects showed bilateral differences in N170 amplitude among expressions (P = 0.014). Schizophrenia subjects failed to show this modulation (P = 0.551). Accuracy on the task did not differ between groups, nor did the pattern of errors. However, in patients, greater positive and negative symptom ratings were associated with increased failure to button press to neutral faces, suggesting misattribution of emotion to neutral expressions in the more ill patients. Because the N170 is largely specific to faces, these results suggest that an impairment specific to the visual processing of facial expressions contributes to the well-known behavioral abnormalities in facial emotion tasks in schizophrenia.

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