Patients with schizophrenia perform worse than controls on various face perception tasks. Studies monitoring eye movements have shown reduced scan paths and a lower number of fixations to relevant facial features (eyes, nose, mouth) than to other parts. We examine whether attentional control, through instructions, modulates visual scanning in schizophrenia. Visual scan paths were monitored in 20 patients with schizophrenia and 20 controls. Participants started with a "free viewing" task followed by tasks in which they were asked to determine the gender, identify the facial expression, estimate the age, or decide whether the face was known or unknown. Temporal and spatial characteristics of scan paths were compared for each group and task. Consistent with the literature, patients with schizophrenia showed reduced attention to salient facial features in the passive viewing. However, their scan paths did not differ from that of controls when asked to determine the facial expression, the gender, the age or the familiarity of the face. The results are interpreted in terms of attentional control and cognitive flexibility.
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