Is Social Attention Impaired in Schizophrenia? Gaze, but not Pointing Gestures, Is Associated With Spatial Attention Deficits

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Abstract

Objective: The nature of possible impairments in orienting attention to social signals in schizophrenia is controversial. The present research was aimed at addressing this issue further by comparing gaze and arrow cues. Unlike previous studies, we also included pointing gestures as social cues, with the goal of addressing whether any eventual impairment in the attentional response was specific to gaze signals or reflected a more general deficit in dealing with social stimuli. Method: Patients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder and matched controls performed a spatial-cuing paradigm in which task-irrelevant centrally displayed gaze, pointing finger, and arrow cues oriented rightward or leftward, preceded a lateralized target requiring a simple detection response. Results: Healthy controls responded faster to spatially congruent targets than to spatially incongruent targets, irrespective of cue type. In contrast, schizophrenic patients responded faster to spatially congruent targets than to spatially incongruent targets only for arrow and pointing finger cues. No cuing effect emerged for gaze cues. Conclusion: The results support the notion that gaze cuing is impaired in schizophrenia, and suggest that this deficit may not extend to all social cues.

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