The Effect of Positive Symptoms on Social Cognition in First-Episode Schizophrenia Is Modified by the Presence of Negative Symptoms

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Objective: There is considerable evidence that patients with schizophrenia have neurocognitive and social–cognitive deficits. It is unclear how such deficits in first-episode schizophrenia relate to current clinical symptoms. Method: Fifty-nine patients with first-episode schizophrenia (FES) were tested using the Danish version of NART (premorbid IQ), subtests from WAIS-III (current IQ), and global cognition using Brief Assessment of Cognition in Schizophrena (BACS), a neurocognitive test battery. Social perception was tested using film clips of everyday interactions (TASIT). Theory of mind (ToM) was tested using silent animations (Animated Triangles Task). The FES subjects had been experiencing psychotic symptoms for several years (mean duration 9.5 years 95% confidence interval (CI [7.6;11.3]). The FES patients were divided into clinical subgroups based on their level of positive and negative symptoms (using SANS and SAPS). Healthy controls were matched to the patients. Results: High levels of negative symptoms were associated with low estimated functional IQ and poor neurocognition and social cognition. All SANS subscales, but Avolition-Apathy, had significant negative impact on social cognition. The effects of positive symptoms were complex. High levels of delusions were associated with higher premorbid IQ. In the presence of high levels of negative symptoms, high levels of positive symptoms were associated with the most comprehensive deficits in social perception, while, in the absence of negative symptoms, high levels of positive symptoms were not associated with such deficits. Conclusion: The results suggest that social–cognitive training will need to take account of the above mentioned effects of symptoms.

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