The magnocellular visual pathway and facial emotion misattribution errors in schizophrenia

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Abstract

Many individuals with schizophrenia show impairment in labeling the emotion depicted by faces, and tend to ascribe anger or fear to neutral expressions. Preliminary research has linked some of these difficulties to dysfunction in the magnocellular (M) visual pathway, which has direct projections to subcortical emotion processing regions. The current study attempted to clarify these relationships using a novel paradigm that included a red background. Diffuse red light is known to suppress the M-pathway in nonpsychiatric adults, and there is preliminary evidence that it may have the opposite (stimulating) effect in schizophrenia-spectrum disorders (SSDs). Twenty-five individuals with SSDs were compared with 31 nonpsychiatric controls using a facial emotion identification task depicting happy, angry, fearful, and sad emotions on red, green, and gray backgrounds. There was a robust interaction of group by change in errors to the red (vs. green) background for misattributing fear expressions as depicting anger (p = .001, ή2 = .18). Specifically, controls showed a significant decrease in this type of error with the red background (p = .003, d = 0.77), while the SSD group tended to increase this type of error (p = .07, d = 0.54). These findings suggest that the well-established M-pathway abnormalities in SSDs may contribute to the heightened misperception of other emotions such as anger, which in turn may cause social misperceptions in the environment and elicit symptoms such as paranoia and social withdrawal. As the ventral striatum plays a primary role in identifying anger and receives efferent input from the M-pathway, it may serve as the neuroanatomical substrate in the perception of anger.

Highlights

▪ Color did not interact with group to errors classified by emotion depicted. ▪ Red caused controls to make fewer errors of labeling fear as anger. ▪ Red caused the schizophrenia group to make more errors of labeling fear as anger. ▪ With neutral (gray) schizophrenia group made more errors with sad faces.

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