Empathic and cognitive processing in people with schizophrenia: a study on an Italian sample

I. Riccardi (1,2), A. Carcione (2), M. D’Arcangelo (1), R. Rossi (3), G. Dimaggio (4), P.H. Lysaker (5), P. Stratta (6)

1 Department of Applied Clinical Sciences and Biotechnology, University of L’Aquila, L’Aquila, Italy; 2 Terzo Centro di Psicoterapia Cognitiva, Associazione di Psicologia Cognitiva, Rome, Italy; 3 Laboratory of Molecular and Translational Psychiatry, Department of Neuroscience, University School of Medicine “Federico II”, Naples, Italy; 4 TMI Centro di Terapia Metacognitiva, Roma, Italy; 5 Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN, USA; 6 Department of Mental Health, ASL 1, L’Aquila, Italy

The aim of this study was to explore the relationships among empathy processes in terms of self-report empathy evaluation and recognition of emotional cues and Theory of Mind components. We used the Empathy Quotient – short form (EQ-s), the Pictures of Facial Affect (POFA) system, a (ToM) Irony appreciation task and the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST), respectively. The Positive and Negative Symptoms Scale (PANSS) and Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) were also used to investigate the relationship with symptomatology and functioning. The sample consisted of 30 participants with diagnosis of schizophrenia. Our results found no significant correlations between EQ-s and other cognitive or clinical variables. PoFA total score and recognition of fear correlated with time spent to give a correct response to the ToM irony comprehension. Time spent to correctly respond to both ToM and physical vignettes correlated with negative symptoms. Positive, negative and cognitive clusters of the PANSS correlated with the GAF. The relationships we found among the considered constructs suggest that empathic processing acts on functionality improving the personal efficiency, in terms of readiness and rapidity, to cope with one’s environment, in the multifaceted social setting. Given that emotion perception in particular has been connected to social competence, independent living and community functioning, it is conceivable that emotion processing may be a potential catalyst within the mindreading process, which can have an impact both on symptomatology and social functioning.

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