Psychological Medicine

Original Articles

Comparison of social cognitive functioning in schizophrenia and high functioning autism: more convergence than divergence

S. M. Couturea1 c1, D. L. Penna1a2, M. Losha2a3, R. Adolphsa4, R. Hurleya3 and J. Pivena2a3

a1 University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Department of Psychology, NC, USA

a2 University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Department of Psychiatry, NC, USA

a3 Neurodevelopmental Disorders Research Center (NDRC) in Chapel Hill, NC, USA

a4 California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA, USA


Background Individuals with schizophrenia and individuals with high-functioning autism (HFA) seem to share some social, behavioral and biological features. Although marked impairments in social cognition have been documented in both groups, little empirical work has compared the social cognitive functioning of these two clinical groups.

Method Forty-four individuals with schizophrenia, 36 with HFA and 41 non-clinical controls completed a battery of social cognitive measures that have been linked previously to specific brain regions.

Results The results indicate that the individuals with schizophrenia and HFA were both impaired on a variety of social cognitive tasks relative to the non-clinical controls, but did not differ from one another. When individuals with schizophrenia were divided into negative symptom and paranoid subgroups, exploratory analyses revealed that individuals with HFA may be more similar, in terms of the pattern of social cognition impairments, to the negative symptom group than to the paranoia group.

Conclusions Our findings provide further support for similarities in social cognition deficits between HFA and schizophrenia, which have a variety of implications for future work on gene–brain–behavior relationships.

(Received December 02 2008)

(Revised June 19 2009)

(Accepted June 19 2009)

(Online publication August 12 2009)


c1 Address for correspondence: Dr S. M. Couture, Department of Psychology, University of Maryland College Park, 1123M Biology-Psychology Building, College Park, MD 20742S, USA. (Email: