Individuals with schizophrenia are impaired in processing social signals such as facial expressions of emotion. Perceiving facial expressions is a complex process that depends on a distributed neural network of regions involved in affective, cognitive, and visual processing. We examined repetition priming, a non-conscious form of perceptual learning, to explore the visual-perceptual processes associated with perceiving facial expression in people with schizophrenia. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was also employed to probe the sensitivity of face-responsive regions in the ventral pathway to the repetition of stimuli. Subjects viewed blocks of novel and repeated faces displaying fear expressions and neutral expressions and identified each face as male or female. Gender decisions were faster for repeated encoding relative to initial encoding of faces, indicating significant priming for facial expressions. Priming was normal in schizophrenia patients, but, as expected, recognition memory for the expressions was impaired. Neuroimaging findings showed that priming-related activation for patients was reduced in the left fusiform gyrus, relative to controls, regardless of facial expression. The findings suggest that schizophrenia patients have altered neural sensitivity in regions of the ventral visual processing stream that underlie early perceptual learning of objects and faces.
Published by Elsevier Ireland Ltd.