Emotional face processing and flat affect in schizophrenia: functional and structural neural correlates

Psychol Med. 2011 Sep;41(9):1833-44. doi: 10.1017/S0033291711000031. Epub 2011 Feb 2.


Background: There is a general consensus in the literature that schizophrenia causes difficulties with facial emotion perception and discrimination. Functional brain imaging studies have observed reduced limbic activity during facial emotion perception but few studies have examined the relation to flat affect severity.

Method: A total of 26 people with schizophrenia and 26 healthy controls took part in this event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Sad, happy and neutral faces were presented in a pseudo-random order and participants indicated the gender of the face presented. Manual segmentation of the amygdala was performed on a structural T1 image.

Results: Both the schizophrenia group and the healthy control group rated the emotional valence of facial expressions similarly. Both groups exhibited increased brain activity during the perception of emotional faces relative to neutral ones in multiple brain regions, including multiple prefrontal regions bilaterally, the right amygdala, right cingulate cortex and cuneus. Group comparisons, however, revealed increased activity in the healthy group in the anterior cingulate, right parahippocampal gyrus and multiple visual areas. In schizophrenia, the severity of flat affect correlated significantly with neural activity in several brain areas including the amygdala and parahippocampal region bilaterally.

Conclusions: These results suggest that many of the brain regions involved in emotional face perception, including the amygdala, are equally recruited in both schizophrenia and controls, but flat affect can also moderate activity in some other brain regions, notably in the left amygdala and parahippocampal gyrus bilaterally. There were no significant group differences in the volume of the amygdala.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Amygdala / physiopathology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Emotions*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Mental Processes*
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology*
  • Schizophrenic Psychology