How do schizophrenia patients use visual information to decode facial emotion?

Junghee Lee, Frédéric Gosselin, Jonathan K. Wynn, Michael F. Green

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Impairment in recognizing facial emotions is a prominent feature of schizophrenia patients, but the underlying mechanism of this impairment remains unclear. This study investigated the specific aspects of visual information that are critical for schizophrenia patients to recognize emotional expression. Using the Bubbles technique, we probed the use of visual information during a facial emotion discrimination task (fear vs. happy) in 21 schizophrenia patients and 17 healthy controls. Visual information was sampled through randomly located Gaussian apertures (or "bubbles") at 5 spatial frequency scales. Online calibration of the amount of face exposed through bubbles was used to ensure 75% overall accuracy for each subject. Least-square multiple linear regression analyses between sampled information and accuracy were performed to identify critical visual information that was used to identify emotional expression. To accurately identify emotional expression, schizophrenia patients required more exposure of facial areas (i.e., more bubbles) compared with healthy controls. To identify fearful faces, schizophrenia patients relied less on bilateral eye regions at high-spatial frequency compared with healthy controls. For identification of happy faces, schizophrenia patients relied on the mouth and eye regions; healthy controls did not utilize eyes and used the mouth much less than patients did. Schizophrenia patients needed more facial information to recognize emotional expression of faces. In addition, patients differed from controls in their use of high-spatial frequency information from eye regions to identify fearful faces. This study provides direct evidence that schizophrenia patients employ an atypical strategy of using visual information to recognize emotional faces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1001-1008
Number of pages8
JournalSchizophrenia Bulletin
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • bubbles tasks
  • emotional face recognition
  • potent information
  • schizophrenia
  • spatial frequency
  • strategy


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