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. 2014 Aug;157(1-3):78-83.
doi: 10.1016/j.schres.2014.04.031. Epub 2014 May 23.

Is the Theory of Mind Deficit Observed in Visual Paradigms in Schizophrenia Explained by an Impaired Attention Toward Gaze Orientation?

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Is the Theory of Mind Deficit Observed in Visual Paradigms in Schizophrenia Explained by an Impaired Attention Toward Gaze Orientation?

Paul Roux et al. Schizophr Res. .

Abstract

Schizophrenia is associated with poor Theory of Mind (ToM), particularly in goal and belief attribution to others. It is also associated with abnormal gaze behaviors toward others: individuals with schizophrenia usually look less to others' face and gaze, which are crucial epistemic cues that contribute to correct mental states inferences. This study tests the hypothesis that impaired ToM in schizophrenia might be related to a deficit in visual attention toward gaze orientation. We adapted a previous non-verbal ToM paradigm consisting of animated cartoons allowing the assessment of goal and belief attribution. In the true and false belief conditions, an object was displaced while an agent was either looking at it or away, respectively. Eye movements were recorded to quantify visual attention to gaze orientation (proportion of time participants spent looking at the head of the agent while the target object changed locations). 29 patients with schizophrenia and 29 matched controls were tested. Compared to controls, patients looked significantly less at the agent's head and had lower performance in belief and goal attribution. Performance in belief and goal attribution significantly increased with the head looking percentage. When the head looking percentage was entered as a covariate, the group effect on belief and goal attribution performance was not significant anymore. Patients' deficit on this visual ToM paradigm is thus entirely explained by a decreased visual attention toward gaze.

Keywords: Attention; Eye movements; Gaze orientation; Schizophrenia; Social cognition; Theory of mind.

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