Background: Patients with schizophrenia have substantially reduced subjective well-being (SW) compared to healthy individuals. It has been suggested that diminished SW may be related to deficits in the neural processing of reward but this has not been shown directly. We hypothesized that, in schizophrenia, lower SW would be associated with attenuated reward-related activation in the reward network.
Method: Twenty patients with schizophrenia with a range of SW underwent a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) reward task. The brain activity underlying reward anticipation and outcome in schizophrenia was examined and compared to that of 12 healthy participants using a full factorial analysis. Region of interest (ROI) analyses of areas within the reward network and whole-brain analyses were conducted to reveal neural correlates of SW.
Results: Reward-related neural activity in schizophrenia was not significantly different from that of healthy participants; however, the patients with schizophrenia showed significantly diminished SW. Both ROI and whole-brain analyses confirmed that SW scores in the patients correlated significantly with activity, specifically in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), during both reward anticipation and reward outcome. This association was not seen in the healthy participants.
Conclusions: In patients with schizophrenia, reduced activation of the dACC during multiple aspects of reward processing is associated with lower SW. As the dACC has been widely linked to coupling of reward and action, and the link to SW is apparent over anticipation and outcome, these findings suggest that SW deficits in schizophrenia may be attributable to reduced integration of environmental rewarding cues, motivated behaviour and reward outcome.
Keywords: Dysphoria; fMRI; reward; schizophrenia; subjective well-being.