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Schizophrenic patients' sensitivity to social cues: the role of abstraction
Am J Psychiatry 1993;150:589-594.
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OBJECTIVE: Since individuals with schizophrenia often have difficulty with abstract tasks, they should have more problems recognizing abstract social cues (e.g., inferences regarding actors' affect and goals) than concrete cues (e.g., observations of actors' behavior and dialogue). Moreover, recognition of abstract and concrete cues should interact with the level of emotional arousal engendered by the situation; previous research has shown that schizophrenic patients perform better on cue recognition tasks when the situation produces moderate rather than low levels of arousal. METHOD: These hypotheses were tested in 24 patients with schizophrenia diagnosed according to the DSM-III-R criteria and 15 normal comparison subjects. All subjects viewed eight short vignettes of interpersonal situations that produce low and moderate levels of arousal. They then answered questions representing perception of abstract and concrete cues that had been matched for difficulty and consistency. RESULTS: The schizophrenic patients were significantly less sensitive to interpersonal cues than the normal subjects. The patients were also less sensitive to abstract than to concrete social cues, and for them there was a significant interaction between cue abstraction level and situational arousal. Specifically, the schizophrenic subjects performed worse on the abstract cue recognition task for the low-arousal situations. CONCLUSIONS: Findings regarding the social cue recognition patterns of schizophrenic patients could play an important role in the development of valid measures of social cognition for this population.

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