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An emerging body of research suggests that people with schizophrenia retain the ability to implicitly perceive facial affect, despite well-documented difficulty explicitly identifying emotional expressions. It remains unclear, however, whether such functional implicit processing extends beyond emotion to other socially relevant facial cues. Here, we constructed two novel versions of the Affect Misattribution Procedure, a paradigm in which affective responses to primes are projected onto neutral targets. The first version included three face primes previously validated to elicit varying inferences of threat from healthy individuals via emotion-independent structural modification (e.g., nose and eye size). The second version included the threat-relevant emotional primes of angry, neutral, and happy faces. Data from 126 participants with schizophrenia and 84 healthy controls revealed that although performing more poorly on an assessment of explicit emotion recognition, patients showed normative implicit threat processing for both non-emotional and emotional facial cues. Collectively, these results support recent hypotheses postulating that the initial perception of salient facial information remains intact in schizophrenia, but that deficits arise at subsequent stages of contextual integration and appraisal. Such a breakdown in the stream of face processing has important implications for mechanistic models of social cognitive impairment in schizophrenia and treatment strategies aiming to improve functional outcome.

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Journal Article

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