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Individuals Diagnosed with Schizophrenia Assign Emotional Importance to Neutral Stimuli: An fMRI Study

DOI: 10.1155/2013/965428

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The majority of functional neuroimaging studies investigating neural correlates of emotion processing in schizophrenia report a significant deficit in limbic structures activation in patients relative to control participants. Recently it has been suggested that this apparent “deficit” could be due to an enhanced sensitivity of the neutral material in individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, rather than due to their inefficiency in emotion processing. The purpose of the present study was to test this supposition and verify if the potential effect is present in both men and women diagnosed with schizophrenia. In order to do that we examined the pattern of cerebral activation associated with processing of neutral stimuli in schizophrenia. Thirty-seven schizophrenia patients and 37 healthy controls viewed neutral and emotional images while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner. Schizophrenia patients rated the neutral images as more emotionally salient than controls. Additionally, patients showed significant activation during processing of neutral images in limbic and prefrontal regions; similar areas were underactivated in patients relative to controls during processing of emotional information. Investigation of sex differences revealed that the enhanced responsiveness to the emotionally neutral material was attributed primarily to men with schizophrenia. 1. Introduction Functional neuroimaging studies, which explored processing of emotional material in schizophrenia, have often reported “deficits” in cerebral activation in patients compared to control participants in various limbic, paralimbic, and prefrontal regions (e.g., [1–4]). A few other studies documented “abnormal overactivation” in patients relative to controls or no difference between the groups [5–10]. These divergent findings have been attributed to the type of emotional task (passive viewing, emotion identification, emotional memory, etc.) and to the characteristics of the recruited patients (first-episode versus chronic, medicated versus unmediated, presence of prominent negative versus prominent positive symptoms, etc.). However, what could have played an equally or even more important role in the obtained results is the kind of functional neuroimaging contrast used in the statistical analysis. It should be pointed out to readers less familiar with the functional neuroimaging literature that the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies in various clinical populations (including schizophrenia and related psychoses) have relied primarily on comparisons between two

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