Bottom-up processing of fearful and angry facial expressions is intact in schizophrenia

Nathan Caruana*, Kiley Seymour

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Judgments of emotion from faces are reportedly impaired in schizophrenia. However, it is unclear whether this is due to a top-down cognitive deficit in evaluating sensory information or a fundamental bottom-up perturbation in the early stages of face encoding. This study examined whether deficits in emotion processing reflect imprecision in the initial preconscious registration of emotional face expressions within the visual system. Methods: Using continuous flash suppression (CFS), we presented participants (18 patients with schizophrenia, 8M/10F; 20 healthy controls, 13M/7F) with fearful and angry faces. Previous CFS research on healthy participants reveals that fearful facial expressions gain privileged access to awareness over angry faces—demonstrating the visual system’s ability to discriminate these emotions at a preconscious level. We used this same approach to probe the integrity of early emotion encoding whilst minimising the potential contribution of any top-down cognitive biases on perceptual judgments. Results: In both groups, fearful faces were perceived faster than angry faces, with no differences observed between patients and controls. Conclusions: Emotion processing difficulties in schizophrenia are unlikely to reflect an early sensory deficit, but rather a deficit in social cognition that has a top-down impact on the conscious evaluation of facial expressions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-198
Number of pages16
JournalCognitive Neuropsychiatry
Issue number3
Early online date22 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • face processing
  • emotion
  • social perception
  • schizophrenia
  • continuous flash suppression


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