Background. Deficits in face emotion recognition (FER) in schizophrenia are well documented, and have been proposed as a potential intermediate phenotype for schizophrenia liability. However, research on the relationship between psychosis vulnerability and FER has mixed findings and methodological limitations. Moreover, no study has yet characterized the relationship between FER ability and level of psychosis-proneness. If FER ability varies continuously with psychosis-proneness, this suggests a relationship between FER and polygenic risk factors.
Method. We tested two large internet samples to see whether psychometric psychosis-proneness, as measured by the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire-Brief (SPQ-B), is related to differences in face emotion identification and discrimination or other face processing abilities.
Results. Experiment 1 (n=2332) showed that psychosis-proneness predicts face emotion identification ability but not face gender identification ability. Experiment 2 (n=1514) demonstrated that psychosis-proneness also predicts performance on face emotion but not face identity discrimination. The tasks in Experiment 2 used identical stimuli and task parameters, differing only in emotion/identity judgment. Notably, the relationships demonstrated in Experiments 1 and 2 persisted even when individuals with the highest psychosis-proneness levels (the putative highrisk group) were excluded from analysis.
Conclusions. Our data suggest that FER ability is related to individual differences in psychosis-like characteristics in the normal population, and that these differences cannot be accounted for by differences in face processing and/or visual perception. Our results suggest that FER may provide a useful candidate intermediate phenotype.
Empathy is an important component of human relationships, yet the neural mechanisms that facilitate empathy are unclear. The broad construct of empathy incorporates both cognitive and affective components. Cognitive empathy includes mentalizing skills such as perspective-taking. Affective empathy consists of the affect produced in response to someone else's emotional state, a process which is facilitated by simulation or “mirroring.” Prior evidence shows that mentalizing tasks engage a neural network which includes the temporoparietal junction, superior temporal sulcus, and medial prefrontal cortex. On the other hand, simulation tasks engage the fronto-parietal mirror neuron system (MNS) which includes the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and the somotosensory related cortex (SRC). Here, we tested whether neural activity in these two neural networks was related to self-reports of cognitive and affective empathy in daily life. Participants viewed social scenes in which the shift of direction of attention of a character did or did not change the character's mental and emotional state. As expected, the task robustly activated both mentalizing and MNS networks. We found that when detecting the character's change in mental and emotional state, neural activity in both networks is strongly related to cognitive empathy. Specifically, neural activity in the IFG, SRC, and STS were related to cognitive empathy. Activity in the precentral gyrus was related to affective empathy. The findings suggest that both
simulation and mentalizing networks contribute to multiple components of empathy.
Background: Failure to self-regulate after an interpersonal conflict can result in persistent negative mood and maladaptive behaviors. Research indicates that lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) activity is related to emotion regulation in response to laboratory-based affective challenges, such as viewing emotional pictures. This suggests that compromised LPFC function may be a risk factor for mood and behavior problems after an interpersonal conflict. However, it remains unclear whether LPFC activity to a laboratory-based affective challenge predicts self-regulation in real life.
Methods: We investigated whether LPFC activity to a laboratory-based affective challenge (negative facial expressions of a partner) predicts self-regulation after a real-life affective challenge (interpersonal conflict). During a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan, healthy, adult participants in committed relationships (n=27) viewed positive, negative, and neutral facial expressions of their partners. In a three-week online daily diary, participants reported conflict occurrence, level of negative mood, rumination, and substance use.
Results: LPFC activity in response to the laboratory-based affective challenge predicted self-regulation after an interpersonal conflict in daily life. When there was no interpersonal conflict, LPFC activity was not related to mood or behavior the next day. However, when an interpersonal conflict did occur, ventral LPFC (VLPFC) activity predicted mood and behavior the next day, such that lower VLPFC activity was related to higher levels of negative mood, rumination, and substance use.
Conclusions: Low LPFC function may be a vulnerability and high LPFC function may be a protective factor for the development of mood and behavior problems after an interpersonal stressor.