Deficits in facial emotion recognition have been recognised in Chinese patients diagnosed with schizophrenia. This study examined the relationship between chronicity of illness and performance of facial emotion recognition in Chinese with schizophrenia. There were altogether four groups of subjects matched for age and gender composition. The first and second groups comprised medically stable outpatients with first-episode schizophrenia (n=50) and their healthy controls (n=26). The third and fourth groups were patients with chronic schizophrenic illness (n=51) and their controls (n=28). The ability to recognise the six prototypical facial emotions was examined using locally validated coloured photographs from the Japanese and Caucasian Facial Expressions of Emotion. Chinese patients with schizophrenia, in both the first-episode and chronic stages, performed significantly worse than their control counterparts on overall facial emotion recognition, (P<0.001), with specific impairment in identifying surprise, fear and disgust. The level of deficit was similar at the two stages of illness. Findings suggest that impaired recognition of facial emotion did not appear to have worsened over the course of disease progression, suggesting that recognition of facial emotion is a rather stable trait of the illness. The emotion-specific deficit may have implications for understanding the social difficulties in schizophrenia.
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