Altered brain responses to specific negative emotions in schizophrenia

Neuroimage Clin. 2021:32:102894. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2021.102894. Epub 2021 Nov 25.


Deficits in emotion processing are a core feature of schizophrenia, but their neurobiological bases are poorly understood. Previous research, mainly focused on emotional face processing and emotion recognition deficits, has shown controverted results. Furthermore, the use of faces has been questioned for not entailing an appropriate stimulus to study emotional processing. This highlights the importance of investigating emotional processing abnormalities using evocative stimuli. For the first time, we have studied the brain responses to scenic stimuli in patients with schizophrenia. We selected scenes from the IAPS that elicit fear, disgust, happiness, and sadness. Twenty-six patients with schizophrenia and thirty age-, sex- and premorbid IQ-matched healthy controls were included. Behavioral task results show that patients tended to misclassify disgust and sadness as fear. Brain responses in patients were different from controls in images eliciting disgust and fear. In response to disgust images, patients hyperactivated the right temporal cortex, which was not activated by the controls. With fear images, hyperactivation was observed in brain regions involved in fear processing, including midline regions from the medial frontal cortex to the anterior cingulate cortex, the superior frontal gyrus, inferior and superior temporal cortex, and visual areas. These results suggest that schizophrenia is characterized by hyper-responsivity to stimuli evoking high-arousal, negative emotions, and a bias towards fear in emotion recognition.

Keywords: Emotions; IAPS; Scenic stimuli; Schizophrenia; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Mapping
  • Emotions
  • Facial Expression
  • Happiness
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Schizophrenia*