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Schizophr Bull. 2013 May;39(3):640-7. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbs063. Epub 2012 Apr 24.

An intact social cognitive process in schizophrenia: situational context effects on perception of facial affect.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Science, 300 Medical Plaza Room 2261, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095-6968, USA.



Impaired facial affect recognition is the most consistent social cognitive finding in schizophrenia. Although social situations provide powerful constraints on our perception, little is known about how situational context modulates facial affect recognition in schizophrenia.


Study 1 was a single-site study with 34 schizophrenia patients and 22 healthy controls. Study 2 was a 2-site study with 68 schizophrenia patients and 28 controls. Both studies administered a Situational Context Facial Affect Recognition Task with 2 conditions: a situational context condition and a no-context condition. For the situational context condition, a briefly shown face was preceded by a sentence describing either a fear- or surprise-inducing event. In the no-context condition, a face was presented without a sentence. For both conditions, subjects rated how fearful or surprised the face appeared on a 9-point Likert scale.


For the situational context condition of study 1, both patients and controls rated faces as more afraid when they were paired with fear-inducing sentences and as more surprised when they were paired with surprise-inducing sentences. The degree of modulation was comparable across groups. For the no-context condition, patients rated faces comparably to controls. The findings of study 2 replicated those from study 1.


Despite previous abnormalities in other types of context paradigms, this study found intact situational context processing in schizophrenia, suggesting that patients benefit from situational context when interpreting ambiguous facial expression. This area of relative social cognitive strength in schizophrenia has implications for social cognitive training programs.

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