Social cognition and social motivation in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder: Are impairments linked to the disorder or to being socially isolated?

Michael F. Green, Jonathan K. Wynn, Naomi I. Eisenberger, William P. Horan, Junghee Lee, Amanda McCleery, David J. Miklowitz, Eric A. Reavis, L. Felice Reddy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background People with schizophrenia on average are more socially isolated, lonelier, have more social cognitive impairment, and are less socially motivated than healthy individuals. People with bipolar disorder also have social isolation, though typically less than that seen in schizophrenia. We aimed to disentangle whether the social cognitive and social motivation impairments observed in schizophrenia are a specific feature of the clinical condition v. social isolation generally. Methods We compared four groups (clinically stable patients with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, individuals drawn from the community with self-described social isolation, and a socially connected community control group) on loneliness, social cognition, and approach and avoidance social motivation. Results Individuals with schizophrenia (n = 72) showed intermediate levels of social isolation, loneliness, and social approach motivation between the isolated (n = 96) and connected control (n = 55) groups. However, they showed significant deficits in social cognition compared to both community groups. Individuals with bipolar disorder (n = 48) were intermediate between isolated and control groups for loneliness and social approach. They did not show deficits on social cognition tasks. Both clinical groups had higher social avoidance than both community groups Conclusions The results suggest that social cognitive deficits in schizophrenia, and high social avoidance motivation in both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are distinct features of the clinical conditions and not byproducts of social isolation. In contrast, differences between clinical and control groups on levels of loneliness and social approach motivation were congruent with the groups' degree of social isolation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Medicine
Early online date5 Feb 2024
StateE-pub ahead of print - 5 Feb 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © The Author(s), 2024. Published by Cambridge University Press.


  • bipolar disorder
  • schizophrenia
  • social cognition
  • social isolation
  • social motivation


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