- Intact unconscious processing of eye contact in schizophrenia
- Schizophrenia research. Cognition
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- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
The perception of eye gaze is crucial for social interaction, providing essential information about another person's goals, intentions, and focus of attention. People with schizophrenia suffer a wide range of social cognitive deficits, including abnormalities in eye gaze perception. For instance, patients have shown an increased bias to misjudge averted gaze as being directed toward them. In this study we probed early unconscious mechanisms of gaze processing in schizophrenia using a technique known as continuous flash suppression. Previous research using this technique to render faces with direct and averted gaze initially invisible reveals that direct eye contact gains privileged access to conscious awareness in healthy adults. We found that patients, as with healthy control subjects, showed the same effect: faces with direct eye gaze became visible significantly faster than faces with averted gaze. This suggests that early unconscious processing of eye gaze is intact in schizophrenia and implies that any misjudgments of gaze direction must manifest at a later conscious stage of gaze processing where deficits and/or biases in attributing mental states to gaze and/or beliefs about being watched may play a role.
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