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08-10-2014 | Mental health | Article

‘Priming’ may improve schizophrenia patients’ social skills


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medwireNews: Study findings suggest that social priming can increase the use of nonverbal social behaviours in patients with schizophrenia.

“Nonverbal gesture reductions have been linked to an important reduction in social functioning”, say Jonathan Del-Monte (Montpellier-1 University, France) and study co-authors. “Specifically targeting nonverbal behavioral deficits in this pathology seems to be of great importance to promote better quality of life of patients.”

The researchers assessed the nonverbal behaviour of schizophrenia patients during three tasks: describing what they did the preceding day, describing a movie and detailing what they would do if given 1 million Euros.

During these tasks, the 15 patients who had previously undergone social priming exhibited significantly more nonverbal social behaviours than the 15 who underwent nonsocial priming and the 15 who underwent antisocial priming. Their respective scores on the Motor-Affective-Social-Scale (MASS) for schizophrenia, awarded by raters unaware of the priming condition, averaged about 11 versus 9 and 8, respectively.

“Although additional research is needed, our results suggest that social priming could be a powerful add-on clinical care tool in schizophrenia and probably in other mental disorders with severe social impairments such as social phobia or autism”, writes the team in PLoS One.

Priming consisted of a task in which the patients had to use four or five scrambled words to make a complete sentence. Sentences used for the social priming group contained words such as friendly, pleasant and cooperative, whereas those used for the antisocial group contained words such as lonesome, detached and egocentric, and the nonsocial group were presented with neutral words.

Patients who underwent social priming had the highest scores for all four domains of the MASS, although the differences were not significant for spontaneous smiles. They had significantly faster speech flow than both the other groups, used significantly more spontaneous hand gestures than the antisocial priming group and more voluntary facial gestures than the nonsocial group.

“Social priming tasks may be useful to activate social goal during therapeutic groups activities, such as social skills training, and help facilitate the acquisition of new social competencies in patients”, suggest Del-Monte and team.

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By Eleanor McDermid, Senior medwireNews Reporter