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11-03-2010 | Mental health | Article

Social anhedonia linked to interpersonal deficits in schizophrenia


Free abstract

MedWire News: Patients with schizophrenia and otherwise mentally healthy individuals with social anhedonia both show deficits in adopting the perspective of others, study results demonstrate.

The capacity to infer the beliefs, intentions, and emotions of others to explain and predict their behavior – known as theory of mind (TOM) – has been extensively studied by cognitive psychologists.

Research in this area has traditionally focused on child development and also autistic disorders. Recently though, clinicians interested in schizophrenia have begun to apply TOM to explain certain characteristics of the illness.

In the current study, Matthieu Villatte (University of Picardie Jules Verne, Amiens, France) and colleagues focused on a particular aspect of TOM - belief attribution in the context of relational frame theory (RFT).

At the core of RFT lies the concept of framing, which consists of responding to a stimulus in relation to another stimulus according to characteristics that may or may not be defined by social community.

For example, responding to questions such as ‘‘What did you do in town yesterday? Did you see the same movie as me?’’ requires the listener to change perspective along the three dimensions as follows: ‘‘I am here now but when I was there and then, I did…’’ and ‘‘You saw that movie but I saw…’’.

A range of these tasks was presented to 15 patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, 30 nonclinical participants with a high level of social anhedonia, and two comparison mentally healthy control groups of 15 and 30 people, respectively.

Both patients with schizophrenia and participants with a high level of social anhedonia demonstrated poorer performance than controls when they were required to reverse the frame of I-YOU, that is, when attributing a belief to another.

Interestingly, schizophrenia patients but not the social anhedonia participants showed poor response to the frame of Logical NOT (attribution of a false-belief).

Villatte et al speculate that experiencing fewer social interactions would cause difficulties in appreciating the point of view of others but would have no influence on understanding that people can act on the basis of a false-belief.

The researchers note that training programs aimed at improving perspective have proved useful in children with high-functioning autism and could be of benefit in schizophrenia.

The research is published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry.

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Current Medicine Group, a trading division of Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2010

Andrew Czyzewski

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