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Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie 47 (2005) 2, 83 - 92

Review article

Emotional information processing in schizophrenic patients: recognising facial expressions

R.J. Hempel, J.H.M. Tulen, N. van Beveren, M.W. Hengeveld

background Schizophrenic patients are subject to both cognitive and emotional disturbances. These patients often find interpersonal communication difficult. One reason for this is that they have problems in recognising faces and facial expressions.

aim To describe the present state of research into - and current theories on - emotional information processing in schizophrenia patients, paying particular attention to the recognition of facial expressions.

method A literature search was performed using PubMed and ScienceDirect on the basis of the key words 'schizophrenia', 'faces', 'facial expressions', 'amygdala', 'emotion'.

results When schizophrenic patients were asked to recognise facial expressions consciously they were less successful than healthy control subjects. However, during a priming task in which emotional facial expressions were presented subconsciously the schizophrenic patients performed better than control subjects. In this article a model is presented which proposes that conscious emotional processing is a result of activation of the left amygdala and that subconscious emotional processing is a result of activation of the right amygdala.

conclusion Schizophrenic patients show greater subconscious emotional priming effects as a result of the disinhibition of the right amygdala, which is brought about by reduced activity of the left amygdala. More research into the recognition of facial expressions by schizophrenic patients could lead to improved treatment of the patients, particularly with regard to their social functioning.


keywords amygdala, emotional information processing, facial expressions, schizophrenia