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Schizophrenia linked to deficit in all components of empathy

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Schizophrenia linked to deficit in all components of empathy


Study findings suggest emotional dysfunctions in patients with schizophrenia extend beyond emotional recognition.

MedWire News: Schizophrenia patients have significant deficits in all core components of empathy, investigators have shown.

There are three core components of empathy: the ability to recognize emotions in oneself and others via facial expressions, speech, or behavior; the ability to share other people’s emotions by “putting one’s self in their shoes” (affective responsiveness); and the ability to infer a person’s emotional state based on their behavior and the social context (emotional perspective taking).

Birgit Derntl (Aachen University, Germany) and colleagues note that the fact that all domains of empathy are affected in schizophrenia patients has a significant impact on their social ability.

They therefore suggest that, to improve the socio-occupational life of schizophrenia patients, behavioral therapies should address each empathy domain independently.

The researchers measured emotion recognition, perspective taking, and affective responsiveness in 24 schizophrenia patients and 24 mentally healthy individuals. The participants also completed a self-report empathy questionnaire.

The schizophrenia patients were less able to recognize emotion when shown faces depicting five basic emotions than controls, with a significant emotion effect as shown by faster reaction times and greater accuracy for happiness than for sadness.

They also showed emotional perspective taking deficits compared with controls, by being less able to correctly choose the emotional expression hidden behind a masked face when shown scenes of two people involved in social interaction.

Finally, schizophrenia patients found it difficult to imagine how they would feel when given a real situation described in 150 short written sentences – as a measure of affective responsiveness – compared with controls.

“Our results fully support the assumption… that schizophrenia patients are impaired in their capacity to spontaneously simulate another person’s subjective world, ie, they cannot empathetically appreciate the likely content of another person’s mind in order to take appropriate account of that other person’s feelings,” the team explains.

“A remediation of these emotional dysfunctions might improve patient’s everyday life, social interactions, and increase their opportunities for a better socio-occupational life, especially as social impairments in schizophrenia frequently worsen over the course of the disorder and probably contribute to the rate of relapse.”

MedWire ([sign in to see URL]) is an independent clinical news service provided by Current Medicine Group, a part of Springer Science+Business Media. © Current Medicine Group Ltd; 2009

  a.. Schizophr Res 2009; 108: 197–206

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Mar/19/2009, 11:59 am Link to this post  

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