Social cognition, the mental operations that underlie social interactions, is a major construct to investigate in schizophrenia. Impairments in social cognition are present before the onset of psychosis, and even in unaffected first-degree relatives, suggesting that social cognition may be a trait marker of the illness. In a large cohort of individuals at clinical high risk for psychosis (CHR) and healthy controls, three domains of social cognition (theory of mind, facial emotion recognition and social perception) were assessed to clarify which domains are impaired in this population. Six-hundred and seventy-five CHR individuals and 264 controls, who were part of the multi-site North American Prodromal Longitudinal Study, completed The Awareness of Social Inference Test, the Penn Emotion Recognition task, the Penn Emotion Differentiation task, and the Relationship Across Domains, measures of theory of mind, facial emotion recognition, and social perception, respectively. Social cognition was not related to positive and negative symptom severity, but was associated with age and IQ. CHR individuals demonstrated poorer performance on all measures of social cognition. However, after controlling for age and IQ, the group differences remained significant for measures of theory of mind and social perception, but not for facial emotion recognition. Theory of mind and social perception are impaired in individuals at CHR for psychosis. Age and IQ seem to play an important role in the arising of deficits in facial affect recognition. Future studies should examine the stability of social cognition deficits over time and their role, if any, in the development of psychosis.
Keywords: clinical high risk; psychosis; schizophrenia; social cognition.