The Effect of Ketamine on Configural Facial Processing

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Ketamine can induce a transient psychosis via its influence on ionotropic N-methyl-d-aspartate receptors. Unlike dopamine agonists, which specifically mimic the positive symptoms seen in psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia, ketamine may provide a better model because it is able to induce not only positive symptoms but also schizophrenia-like cognitive and negative symptoms. To test the veracity of the ketamine model further, research is attempting to replicate a range of cognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia in healthy controls under the influence of ketamine. Facial processing is one area that is impaired in schizophrenia. More specifically, research suggests that schizophrenia is associated with a reduced facial inversion effect reflecting abnormalities in configural face processing. The purpose of the current study was to determine whether ketamine would also reduce the facial inversion effect. This study was a double-blind, placebo-controlled repeated-measures design in which data are presented for 14 participants who received ketamine on one occasion and saline on another. The results supported the ketamine model, with the participants demonstrating an intact inversion effect in the placebo condition but no inversion effect under the influence of ketamine. Further, participants’ self-reported deficits in visual processing correlated with their inversion score and errors on the faces task. Future studies should examine a wider range of facial processing tasks with a larger sample to confirm the current results and to determine the specificity of ketamine’s ability to mimic schizophrenia facial processing deficits. The current study is supportive of the role of glutamate system in the processing of configural face information.

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