Social functioning, empathy, and working memory in schizotypy

Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness often involving hallucinations and/or delusions and marked social and cognitive dysfunction (Messias et al., 2007). Individuals who display sub-clinical symptoms of schizophrenia are characterized by the multidimensional construct of schizotypy (Meehl, 1962). A wide array of studies has been conducted on individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia in identifying specific impairments in social functioning, social cognition, and neurocognition. Studies have found that individuals with schizotypal traits display impairments in their ability to maintain social roles and responsibilities, leading to deficits in functional outcome such as social isolation and depression (McCleery et al., 2015; Cohen and Mohr, 2015). Schizotypal individuals also display reduced empathy and marked deficits in auditory and visual working memory (Park and Holzman, 1992; Gold et al., 1997; Kiang and Kutas, 2006; Henry et al., 2007). The current study compared individuals with high or low schizotypy in working memory, empathy, and social functioning. Schizotypy status was determined by scores on the Schizotypal Personality Questionaire - Brief. Persons with high (N=48) and low (N=13) schizotypy completed a battery of cognitive tests of working memory and questionnaires of social functioning and empathy. Statistical analyses indicated that persons with high schizotypy were impaired on various indicators of social functioning and empathy. Persons with high and low schizotypy did not differ on tasks of working memory. Correlational analyses did not find associations between empathy skills and social functioning in persons with high schizotypy. Persons with high schizotypy appear to be impaired in empathy skills, and futures studies should examine social skills training strategies that can ameliorate this deficit.