Neural mechanisms that support social relationships in clinical high risk for psychosis

Presentation First Author: 
Chrstine Hooker

Social problems prospectively predict the onset of psychosis and the severity of schizophrenia, suggesting that social problems could be an effective target for prevention and treatment, yet the underlying causes are unknown. Successful social relationships require the ability to understand and empathize with others. Simulation facilitates this ability and involves using ones own experience to understand what the other person is feeling. Here, we investigate the neural mechanisms of simulation and their relationship to social functioning in participants at clinical high risk (CHR) for psychosis. Methods: During fMRI scanning, 21 CHR and 19 healthy control (HC) participants viewed videos of another person experiencing a hand injury (e.g. being cut by a knife). Participants were then asked how unpleasant that injury would be for them. We hypothesized that simulation during this question would result in neural activity in the hand region of somatosensory cortex and that the amount of activity would predict empathy and related social processes in daily life. Day-to-day social behavior was assessed with a daily-diary in which participants reported the number and nature of social interactions each day. Results: Across both CHR and HC participants the amount of somatosensory cortex activity prospectively predicted empathy, perspective-taking, and other aspects of social functioning over the following 7-days. Conclusions: Results suggest that simulation is an effective strategy to understand others, and, deficits in this process contribute to social functioning problems. The data also suggest that treatment targeting simulation and its underlying neural substrates could be functionally beneficial and assessed with fMRI.

Conference Name: 
Presentation Date: 
January, 2015
See other presentations in this session: