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Disturbances in the spontaneous attribution of social meaning in schizophrenia

Horan, W. P. and Nuechterlein, K. H. and Wynn, J. K. and Lee, J. and Castelli, F. and Green, M. F. (2009) Disturbances in the spontaneous attribution of social meaning in schizophrenia. Psychological Medicine, 39 (4). pp. 635-643. ISSN 0033-2917.

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Background. Schizophrenia patients show disturbances on a range of tasks that assess mentalizing or 'Theory of Mind' (ToM). However, these tasks are often developmentally inappropriate, make large demands on verbal abilities and explicit problem-solving skills, and involve after-the-fact reflection as opposed to spontaneous mentalizing. Method. To address these limitations, 55 clinically stable schizophrenia out-patients and 44 healthy controls completed a validated Animations Task designed to assess spontaneous attributions of social meaning to ambiguous abstract visual stimuli. In this paradigm, 12 animations depict two geometric shapes' interacting' with each other in three conditions: (1) ToM interactions that elicit attributions of mental states to the agents, (2) Goal-Directed (GO) interactions that elicit attributions of simple actions, and (3) Random scenes in which no interaction occurs. Verbal descriptions of each animation are rated for the degree of Intentionality attributed to the agents and for accuracy. Results. Patients had lower Intentionality ratings than controls for ToM and GO scenes but the groups did not significantly differ for Random scenes. The descriptions of the patients less closely matched the situations intended by the developers of the task. Within the schizophrenia group, performance on the Animations Task showed minimal associations with clinical symptoms. Conclusions. Patients demonstrated disturbances in the spontaneous attribution of mental states to abstract visual stimuli that normally evoke such attributions. Hence, in addition to previously established impairment on mentalizing tasks that require logical inferences about others' mental states, individuals with schizophrenia show disturbances in implicit aspects of mentalizing.

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Additional Information:© Cambridge University Press 2008.Received 21 September 2007; Revised 8 May 2008; Accepted 15 May 2008; First published online 8 July 2008. This research was supported by a NARSAD Young Investigator Award (W. P. Horan), by research grants MH43292 and MH65707 (PI: M. F. Green) and Institutional NRSA MH14584 (PI: K. H. Nuechterlein) from the National Institute of Mental Health, and by the Department of Veterans Affairs VISN 22 MIRECC. We thank Tamara A. Russell for helpful consultation during the planning of this study, and Shelly M. Crosby, Kelly Tillery, Karina Shokat-Fadai, Joseph Ventura, and Sarah Wilson for their contributions to this project.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)MH43292
Department of Veterans AffairsVISN 22 MIRECC
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)MH65707
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)MH14584
Subject Keywords:anthropomorphizing; mentalizing; schizophrenia; social cognition; theory of mind
Issue or Number:4
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20090527-160046633
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:14321
Deposited By: Lindsay Cleary
Deposited On:11 Aug 2009 17:09
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 00:49

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