Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society

Research Articles

Empathic deficits in schizophrenia: The potential role of rapid facial mimicry

KANDICE J. VARCINa1 c1, PHOEBE E. BAILEYa1 and JULIE D. HENRYa1

a1 School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

Abstract

Emotional facial expressions evoke rapid, involuntary, and covert facial reactions in the perceiver that are consistent with the emotional valence of the observed expression. These responses are believed to be an important low-level mechanism contributing to the experience of empathy, which some have argued rely on a simulation mechanism subserved by the human mirror neuron system (MNS). Because schizophrenia is associated with pervasive social cognitive difficulties which have been linked to structural abnormalities in the MNS network, the aim of the present study was to provide the first assessment of how rapid facial mimicry reactions (within 1000 ms poststimulus onset) are affected in schizophrenia. Activity in the corrugator supercilii and zygomaticus major muscle regions was quantified using electromyography while individuals with schizophrenia (n = 25) and controls (n = 25) viewed images of happy and angry facial expressions. In contrast to controls, individuals with schizophrenia demonstrated atypical facial mimicry reactions which were not associated with any clinical features of the disorder. These data provide evidence for a low-level disruption that may be contributing to empathizing deficits in schizophrenia and are discussed in relation to neuropsychological models of empathy and schizophrenia. (JINS, 2010, 16, 621–629.)

(Received November 30 2009)

(Reviewed March 03 2010)

(Accepted March 04 2010)

Correspondence:

c1 Correspondence and reprint requests to: Kandice J. Varcin, School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052 Australia. E-mail: kvarcin@psy.unsw.edu.au

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