By Mark Cowen, Senior medwireNews Reporter
First-episode psychosis (FEP) patients show widespread impairments in social cognition, and such impairments are also evident, albeit to a lesser extent, in those at ultra-high risk (UHR) for psychosis, researchers report.
Indeed, UHR patients showed an intermediate level of social impairment between FEP patients and mentally healthy individuals (controls), although the difference compared with controls was only significant for theory of mind (ToM).
"Longitudinal research in larger samples is needed to investigate whether social cognition deficits, such as ToM, are risk factors in UHR groups for subsequent transition to full-threshold psychosis," says the team.
The findings come from a study of 40 FEP and 30 UHR patients from a public youth mental health service in Melbourne, Australia, as well as 30 controls who were from the same geographic area. All of the participants were aged 15-25 years.
Facial and vocal emotion recognition was assessed using the Diagnostic Assessment of Non Verbal Accuracy (DANVA); social perception using the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test - managing emotions branch (MSCEIT); and ToM using the hinting task and interpretation of visual jokes task.
After accounting for age, IQ, and gender, the team found that FEP patients had significantly poorer performance on all social cognition tasks compared with controls.
Specifically, scores for FEP patients on the DANVA, MSCEIT, hinting task, and interpretation of visual jokes task were 13.7, 85.8, 15.7, and 16.8, respectively, compared with corresponding scores of 10.0, 92.0, 18.0, and 19.6 in controls.
Scores for these tests in the UHR group were 11.8, 89.0, 16.5, and 17.7, respectively. However, the only significant difference in scores between the UHR group and controls was for the ToM tasks.
Andrew Thompson (University of Melbourne) and team conclude: "Both FEP and UHR patients appear to have difficulties in social cognition."
They add: "The degree of impairment on social cognition tasks is less pronounced in UHR than FEP patients."
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