Alterations in Brain Activation During Cognitive Empathy Are Related to Social Functioning in Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia Bulletin (Impact Factor: 8.45). 03/2014; 41(1). DOI: 10.1093/schbul/sbu023
Source: PubMed


Impaired cognitive empathy (ie, understanding the emotional experiences of others) is associated with poor social functioning in schizophrenia. However, it is unclear whether the neural activity underlying cognitive empathy relates to social functioning. This study examined the neural activation supporting cognitive empathy performance and whether empathy-related activation during correctly performed trials was associated with self-reported cognitive empathy and measures of social functioning. Thirty schizophrenia outpatients and 24 controls completed a cognitive empathy paradigm during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Neural activity corresponding to correct judgments about the expected emotional expression in a social interaction was compared in schizophrenia subjects relative to control subjects. Participants also completed a self-report measure of empathy and 2 social functioning measures (social competence and social attainment). Schizophrenia subjects demonstrated significantly lower accuracy in task performance and were characterized by hypoactivation in empathy-related frontal, temporal, and parietal regions as well as hyperactivation in occipital regions compared with control subjects during accurate cognitive empathy trials. A cluster with peak activation in the supplementary motor area (SMA) extending to the anterior midcingulate cortex (aMCC) correlated with social competence and social attainment in schizophrenia subjects but not controls. These results suggest that neural correlates of cognitive empathy may be promising targets for interventions aiming to improve social functioning and that brain activation in the SMA/aMCC region could be used as a biomarker for monitoring treatment response.

Download full-text


Available from: Matthew J Smith, Mar 03, 2014
83 Reads
  • Source
    • "Some may also find the label " online simulation " confusing as an index of cognitive empathy, since simulation is typically described as a relatively automatic aspect of affective empathy in social neuroscience models (Preston & de Waal, 2002). Overall, across self-report measures, as well as behavioral and neuroimaging tasks (Langdon et al., 2006; Derntl et al., 2009, 2012; Achim et al., 2011; Smith et al., 2014b; Horan et al., 2014a), schizophrenia is consistently associated with diminished cognitive empathy. Although schizophrenia and healthy comparison subjects differed on neurocognitive functioning, we did not evaluate this variable as a covariate during our examination of between-group differences. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: a b s t r a c t Cognitive empathy impairments have been linked to poor social functioning in schizophrenia. However, prior studies primarily used self-reported empathy measures developed decades ago that are not well-aligned with contemporary models of empathy. We evaluated empathy and its relationship to social functioning in schizophrenia using the recently developed Questionnaire of Cognitive and Affective Empathy (QCAE). Schizophrenia (n ¼52) and healthy comparison (n ¼ 37) subjects completed the QCAE, Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI), and measures of neurocognition, symptoms, and social functioning. Between-group differences on the QCAE, and relationships between QCAE and IRI subscales, neurocog-nition, symptoms, and social functioning were examined. The schizophrenia group reported significantly lower cognitive empathy than comparison subjects, which was driven by low online simulation scores. Cognitive empathy explained significant variance in social functioning after accounting for neurocogni-tion and symptoms. Group differences for affective empathy were variable; the schizophrenia group reported similar proximal responsivity, but elevated emotion contagion relative to comparison subjects. These findings bolster support for the presence and functional significance of impaired cognitive empathy in schizophrenia using a contemporary measure of empathy. Emerging evidence that some aspects of affective empathy may be unimpaired or hyper-responsive in schizophrenia and implications for the assessment and treatment of empathy in schizophrenia are discussed.
    Psychiatry Research 10/2014; 220(3). DOI:10.1016/j.psychres.2014.08.054 · 2.47 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Human empathic experience is a multifaceted psychological construct which arises from functional integration of multiple neural networks. Despite accumulating knowledge about the cortical circuitry of empathy, almost nothing is known about the connectivity that may be concerned in conveying empathy-related neural information. To bridge this gap in knowledge, we studied dispositional empathy in a large-sized cohort of 107 patients who had undergone surgery for a diffuse low-grade glioma. The self-report questionnaire used enabled us to obtain a global measure of subjective empathy but also, importantly, to assess the two main components of empathy (cognitive and emotional). Data were processed by combining voxelwise and tractwise lesion-symptom analyses. Several major findings emerged from our analyses. First of all, topological voxelwise analyses were inconclusive. Conversely, tractwise multiple regression analyses, including all major associative white matter pathways as potential predictors, yielded to significant models explaining substantial part of the behavioural variance. Among the main results, we found that disconnection of the left cingulum bundle was a strong predictor of a low cognitive empathy (p<0.0005 Bonferroni-corrected). Similarly, we found that disconnection of the right uncinate fasciculus and the right inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus predicted, respectively, a low (p<0.05 Bonferroni-corrected) and a high (p<0.05 Bonferroni-corrected) subjective empathy. Finally, although we failed to relate emotional empathy to disruption of a specific tract, correlation analyses indicated a positive association between this component of empathy and the volumes of residual lesion infiltration in the right hemisphere (p<0.01). Taken as a whole, these findings provide key fundamental insights into the anatomical connectivity of empathy. They may help to better understand the pathophysiology of empathy impairments in pathological conditions characterized by abnormalities of long-range anatomical connectivity, such as autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia and fronto-temporal dementia. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
    Neuropsychologia 02/2015; 30. DOI:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.02.015 · 3.30 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: People with schizophrenia show social impairments that are related to functional outcomes. We tested the hypothesis that social interaction impairments in people with schizophrenia are related to alterations in the predictions of others' behavior and explored their underlying neurobiological mechanisms. Electroencephalography was performed in 20 patients with schizophrenia and 25 well-matched control subjects. Participants played as proposers in the repeated version of the Ultimatum Game believing that they were playing with another human or with a computer. The power of oscillatory brain activity was obtained by means of the wavelet transform. We performed a trial-by-trial correlation between the oscillatory activity and the risk of the offer. Control subjects adapted their offers when playing with computers and tended to maintain their offers when playing with humans, as such revealing learning and bargaining strategies, respectively. People with schizophrenia presented the opposite pattern of behavior in both games. During the anticipation of others' responses, the power of alpha oscillations correlated with the risk of the offers made, in a different way in both games. Patients with schizophrenia presented a greater correlation in computer games than in human games; control subjects showed the opposite pattern. The alpha activity correlated with positive symptoms. Our results reveal an alteration in social interaction in patients with schizophrenia that is related to oscillatory brain activity, suggesting maladjustment of expectation when patients face social and nonsocial agents. This alteration is related to psychotic symptoms and could guide further therapies for improving social functioning in patients with schizophrenia. Copyright © 2015 Society of Biological Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
    Biological psychiatry 02/2015; DOI:10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.02.012 · 10.26 Impact Factor
Show more