Both cognitive and social-cognitive deficits impact functional outcome in schizophrenia. Cognitive remediation studies indicate that targeted cognitive and/or social-cognitive training improves behavioral performance on trained skills. However, the neural effects of training in schizophrenia and their relation to behavioral gains are largely unknown. This study tested whether a 50-h intervention which included both cognitive and social-cognitive training would influence neural mechanisms that support social ccognition. Schizophrenia participants completed a computer-based intervention of either auditory-based cognitive training (AT) plus social-cognition training (SCT) (N=11) or non-specific computer games (CG) (N=11). Assessments included a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) task of facial emotion recognition, and behavioral measures of cognition, social cognition, and functional outcome. The fMRI results showed the predicted group-by-time interaction. Results were strongest for emotion recognition of happy, surprise and fear: relative to CG participants, AT+SCT participants showed a neural activity increase in bilateral amygdala, right putamen and right medial prefrontal cortex. Across all participants, pre-to-post intervention neural activity increase in these regions predicted behavioral improvement on an independent emotion perception measure (MSCEIT: Perceiving Emotions). Among AT+SCT participants alone, neural activity increase in right amygdala predicted behavioral improvement in emotion perception. The findings indicate that combined cognition and social-cognition training improves neural systems that support social-cognition skills.
Social functioning depends on the ability to attribute and reason about the mental states of others - an ability known as theory of mind (ToM). Research in this field is limited by the use of tasks in which ceiling effects are ubiquitous, rendering them insensitive to individual differences in ToM ability and instances of subtle ToM impairment. Here, we present data from a new ToM task - the Short Story Task (SST) - intended to improve upon many aspects of existing ToM measures. More specifically, the SST was designed to: (a) assess the full range of individual differences in ToM ability without suffering from ceiling effects; (b) incorporate a range of mental states of differing complexity, including epistemic states, affective states, and intentions to be inferred from a first- and second-order level; (c) use ToM stimuli representative of real-world social interactions; (d) require participants to utilize social context when making mental state inferences; (e) exhibit adequate psychometric properties; and (f) be quick and easy to administer and score. In the task, participants read a short story and were asked questions that assessed explicit mental state reasoning, spontaneous mental state inference, and comprehension of the non-mental aspects of the story. Responses were scored according to a rubric that assigned greater points for accurate mental state attributions that included multiple characters' mental states. Results demonstrate that the SST is sensitive to variation in ToM ability, can be accurately scored by multiple raters, and exhibits concurrent validity with other social cognitive tasks. The results support the effectiveness of this new measure of ToM in the study of social cognition. The findings are also consistent with studies demonstrating significant relationships among narrative transportation, ToM, and the reading of fiction. Together, the data indicate that reading fiction may be an avenue for improving ToM ability. See here for Fiction Passage and Questions and Scoring Guide.
Objective: Social cognitive deficits are an important treatment target in schizophrenia, but it is unclear to what degree they require specialized interventions and which specific components of behavioral interventions are effective. In this pilot study, we explored the effects of a novel computerized neuroplasticity-based auditory training delivered in conjunction with computerized social cognition training (SCT) in patients with schizophrenia.Methods: Nineteen clinically stable schizophrenia subjects performed 50 hours of computerized exercises that place implicit, increasing demands on auditory perception, plus 12 hours of computerized training in emotion identification, social perception, and theory of mind tasks. All subjects were assessed with MATRICS-recommended measures of neurocognition and social cognition, plus a measure of self-referential source memory before and after the computerized training.Results: Subjects showed significant improvements on multiple measures of neurocognition. Additionally, subjects showed significant gains on measures of social cognition, including the MSCEIT Perceiving Emotions, MSCEIT Managing Emotions, and self-referential source memory, plus a significant decrease in positive symptoms.Conclusions: Computerized training of auditory processing/verbal learning in schizophrenia results in significant basic neurocognitive gains. Further, addition of computerized social cognition training results in significant gains in several social cognitive outcome measures. Computerized cognitive training that directly targets social cognitive processes can drive improvements in these crucial functions.
Psychosis and psychosis-proneness are associated with abnormalities in subjective experience of the self, including distortions in bodily experience that are difficult to study experimentally due to lack of structured methods. In 55 healthy adults, we assessed the relationship between self-reported psychosis-like characteristics and susceptibility to the rubber hand illusion of body ownership. In this illusion, a participant sees a rubber hand being stroked by a brush at the same time that they feel a brush stroking their own hand. In some individuals, this creates the bodily sense that the rubber hand is their own hand. Individual differences in positive (but not negative) psychosis-like characteristics predicted differences in susceptibility to experiencing the rubber hand illusion. This relationship was specific to the subjective experience of rubber hand ownership, and not other unusual experiences or sensations, and absent when a small delay was introduced between seeing and feeling the brush stroke. This indicates that individual differences in susceptibility are related to visual-tactile integration and cannot be explained by differences in the tendency to endorse unusual experiences. Our findings suggest that susceptibility to body representation distortion by sensory information may be related or contribute to the development of psychosis and positive psychosis-like characteristics.