Purpose of review: Deficits in social cognition are an important determinant of social functioning in schizophrenia, a core feature of the illness that persists despite treatment. Recent research in neuroplasticity-based therapeutics shows that neural systems supporting core cognitive skills improve after targeted cognitive training, suggesting that social cognition, and concomitant social functioning, may be improved by targeting the neural systems supporting social cognition. However, the success of this approach depends on the extent to which the social brain is malleable. We review the neural effects of training programs focused on improving social cognition in healthy, schizophrenia, and other clinical samples.
Recent findings: The current literature suggests that the neural mechanisms underlying social cognition show neuroplastic changes after behavioral training and these neural changes confer concomitant benefits to social cognition and social behavior. Most research in schizophrenia has focused on emotion recognition, and although emotion recognition training has behavioral and neural benefits for schizophrenia, more advanced social cognitive processes need to be examined.
Summary: The data suggest that targeting neural systems underlying social cognition through socially focused behavioral interventions may improve social functioning impairments in schizophrenia. Questions remain regarding how to optimize training, which should be addressed in future work.