Social Cognition in Schizophrenia, Part 1: Performance Across Phase of Illness

Social cognitive impairments are consistently reported in schizophrenia and are associated with functional outcome. We currently know very little about whether these impairments are stable over the course of illness. In the current study, 3 different aspects of social cognition were assessed (emotion processing, Theory of Mind [ToM], and social relationship perception) at 3 distinct developmental phases of illness: prodromal, first episode, and chronic. In this cross-sectional study, participants included 50 individuals with the prodromal risk syndrome for psychosis and 34 demographically comparable controls, 81 first-episode schizophrenia patients and 46 demographically comparable controls, and 53 chronic schizophrenia patients and 47 demographically comparable controls. Outcome measures included total and subtest scores on 3 specialized measures of social cognition: (1) emotion processing assessed with the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test, (2) ToM assessed with The Awareness of Social Inference Test, and (3) social relationship perception assessed the Relationships Across Domains Test. Social cognitive performance was impaired across all domains of social cognition and in all clinical samples. Group differences in performance were comparable across phase of illness, with no evidence of progression or improvement. Age had no significant effect on performance for either the clinical or the comparison groups. The findings suggest that social cognition in these 3 domains fits a stable pattern that has outcome and treatment implications. An accompanying article prospectively examines the longitudinal stability of social cognition and prediction of functional outcome in the first-episode sample.