Intact prioritisation of unconscious face processing in schizophrenia

Nathan Caruana*, Timo Stein, Tamara Watson, Nikolas Williams, Kiley Seymour

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    9 Citations (Scopus)


    Introduction: Faces provide a rich source of social information, crucial for the successful navigation of daily social interactions. People with schizophrenia suffer a wide range of social-cognitive deficits, including abnormalities in face perception. However, to date, studies of face perception in schizophrenia have primarily employed tasks that require patients to make judgements about the faces. It is, thus, unclear whether the reported deficits reflect an impairment in encoding visual face information, or biased social-cognitive evaluative processes. Methods: We assess the integrity of early unconscious face processing in 21 out-patients diagnosed with Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder (15M/6F) and 21 healthy controls (14M/7F). In order to control for any direct influence of higher order cognitive processes, we use a behavioural paradigm known as breaking continuous flash suppression (b-CFS), where participants simply respond to the presence and location of a face. In healthy adults, this method has previously been used to show that upright faces gain rapid and privileged access to conscious awareness over inverted faces and other inanimate objects. Results: Here, we report similar effects in patients, suggesting that the early unconscious stages of face processing are intact in schizophrenia. Conclusion: Our data indicate that face processing deficits reported in the literature must manifest at a conscious stage of processing, where the influence of mentalizing or attribution biases might play a role.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)135-151
    Number of pages17
    JournalCognitive Neuropsychiatry
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


    • face processing
    • continuous flash suppression
    • vision
    • social cognition
    • social perception


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