Reduced neural activity when anticipating social versus nonsocial rewards in schizophrenia: Preliminary evidence from an ERP study

Lauren T. Catalano, Jonathan K. Wynn, Michael F. Green, James M. Gold

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Diminished social motivation is a core feature of schizophrenia that might reflect disturbances in social reward processing. It is not known whether these disturbances reflect anticipatory (“wanting”) and/or consummatory (“liking”) pleasure deficits. The primary aim of this study was to examine social versus nonsocial reward processing during these temporally distinct substages using event-related potential (ERP) components. Twenty-three schizophrenia participants and 20 healthy participants completed an incentive delay task with social (i.e., smiling expressions) and nonsocial (i.e., money) rewards. We measured two anticipatory ERPs (i.e., “wanting”) (target anticipation: Contingent Negative Variation [CNV]; feedback anticipation: Stimulus Preceding Negativity [SPN]) and one consummatory ERP (i.e., “liking”) (feedback receipt: P300). As a secondary aim, we examined correlations between the ERPs and interview-rated motivational negative symptoms and social functioning. Schizophrenia participants showed overall less target anticipation (blunted CNV) across all trials (social and nonsocial) than healthy participants. Importantly, schizophrenia participants exhibited less anticipation of social rewards relative to nonsocial rewards (SPN), whereas healthy participants showed similar anticipation for both reward types. Both groups showed similar responses to social and nonsocial reward receipt (P300). Furthermore, social reward anticipation during the incentive delay task was associated with more social approach behaviors in the real-world. Together, these findings provide preliminary evidence for intact social reward “liking” and impaired “wanting” in schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-16
Number of pages10
JournalSchizophrenia Research
StatePublished - Aug 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institutes of Mental Health (R01 MH080066-06A1 to JMG). Writing of this manuscript was supported by a VA Career Development Award (to LTC).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022


  • SPN
  • Schizophrenia
  • Social anhedonia
  • Social motivation
  • Social reward


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