Background: Human beings find social stimuli rewarding, which is thought to facilitate efficient social functioning. Although reward processing has been extensively studied in schizophrenia, a few studies have examined neural processes specifically involved in social reward processing. This study examined neural sensitivity to social and nonsocial rewards in schizophrenia.
Methods: Twenty-seven patients with schizophrenia and 25 community controls completed a One-Armed Bandit Task, an implicit reinforcement learning task, in the scanner. There were 2 conditions with an identical trial structure, one with social rewards and the other with nonsocial rewards. The data were analyzed using a region of interest (ROI) approach, focusing on the ventral striatum, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and anterior cingulate cortex.
Results: Across all 3 ROIs, patients showed reduced activation for social rewards compared to controls. However, the 2 groups showed comparable levels of activation for nonsocial rewards. Within the patient group, levels of neural activation in these ROIs during the social reward condition were associated with better performance.
Conclusions: This study found reduced neural sensitivity in patients with schizophrenia in key reward-processing regions for social but not for nonsocial rewards. These findings suggest a relatively specific social reward-processing deficit in schizophrenia during an implicit reinforcement learning task.
Keywords: anterior cingulate cortex; schizophrenia; social motivation; social preference; social reward; ventral striatum; ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
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