An analysis of categorical perception of facial emotion in schizophrenia

Kimmy S. Kee, William P. Horan, Jonathan K. Wynn, Jim Mintz, Michael F. Green

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Background: Emotion perception deficits have been extensively documented in schizophrenia and are associated with poor social functioning. Yet fundamental questions about the nature and scope of these impairments remain unanswered from commonly used experimental tasks. An alternative categorical perception paradigm that focuses on distinguishing boundaries between emotions was used to evaluate whether schizophrenia patients demonstrate atypical patterns of categorical perception and a negativity bias in the identification of ambiguous facial expressions. Method: 47 schizophrenia outpatients and 31 nonpsychiatric controls completed a forced-choice emotion identification task. Stimuli consisted of a series of digitized facial images that were morphed in 10% signal intensity increments along continua between pairs of emotions (happy-sad; fearful-happy; angry-fearful; angry-sad) and presented in a random order. For each emotion continuum, measures of the response slope and the location of the boundary shift point between emotions were calculated for each group. Results: The schizophrenia group demonstrated significantly shallower response curves than controls across all emotion continua. Despite these generally less precise demarcations between emotions, patients did not significantly differ from controls in the location of the shift point between emotions on any of the continua. Conclusions: Schizophrenia patients demonstrated impaired categorical perception of facial expressions with generally less sharp categorizations of ambiguous stimuli to one emotion category or another. However, patients did not demonstrate a negativity bias in their processing of ambiguous facial expressions. The emotional continuum paradigm can help to clarify the nature and boundaries of affect perception deficits in schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)228-237
Number of pages10
JournalSchizophrenia Research
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Oct 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Affect perception
  • Categorical perception
  • Facial emotion
  • Schizophrenia


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