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.
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- face processing
- social perception
- continuous flash suppression