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Psychol Med. 2010 Oct;40(10):1607-17. doi: 10.1017/S0033291709992133. Epub 2010 Jan 8.

Neuronal correlates of affective theory of mind in schizophrenia out-patients: evidence for a baseline deficit.

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Division for Imaging in Psychiatry, Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim, Germany.



Schizophrenia out-patients have deficits in affective theory of mind (ToM) but also on more basal levels of social cognition, such as the processing of neutral and emotional expressions. These deficits are associated with changes in brain activation in the amygdala and the superior temporal sulcus (STS). However, until now there have been no studies that examined these different levels of social cognition and their neurobiological underpinnings in patients within one design.


Sixteen medicated schizophrenia out-patients and 16 matched healthy controls were studied with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during a social cognition task that allows the investigation of affective ToM (aToM), emotion recognition and the processing of neutral facial expressions.


Patients showed a deficit in emotion recognition and a more prominent deficit in aToM. The performance in aToM and in emotion recognition was correlated in the control group but not in the schizophrenia group. Region-of-interest analysis of functional brain imaging data revealed no difference between groups during aToM, but a hyperactivation in the schizophrenia group in the left amygdala and right STS during emotion recognition and the processing of neutral facial expressions.


The results indicate that schizophrenia out-patients have deficits at several levels of social cognition and provide the first evidence that deficits on higher-order social cognitive processes in schizophrenia may be traced back to an aberrant processing of faces per se.

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