Negative symptoms in schizophrenia, like asociality and social anhedonia (diminished experience of pleasure from social interactions), are characterized by deficits in normative experiences of pleasure, sociality, and affect. They are persistent, related to functional impairment, and are an unmet treatment need. Asociality and social anhedonia may impact patients'motivation to engage in social interactions and establish meaningful social relationships. Due to the severity and chronicity of schizophrenia, it is important to study the relationship between negative symptoms and social affiliation. Past research has begun to examine the deficits that underlie social impairment by focusing on the experience of pleasure and motivation/reward processes. However, many studies fail to use real social relationships and do not take a biobehavioral approach to assessing social affiliative processes, which are core to negative symptoms. However, one neuroimaging study by Coan and colleagues (2006) addressed these methodological concerns and found that physical contact (holding the hand) of an affiliative partner was more effective in attenuating emotion/threat brain reactivity than physical contact with a stranger or no physical contact in healthy controls. We plan to extend this research to a schizophrenia population to examine how the experience of social affiliation (hand-holding) from a supportive confederate, who will build social affiliation with participants in the laboratory, is related to negative symptoms, neural reactivity to threat, and social functioning. To investigate the role of negative symptoms in social affiliative processes, schizophrenia patients and healthy controls will complete the proposed neuroimaging research project in two visits. In the first visit, participants will complet a series of diagnostic, symptom severity, cognitive, social skills and functioning assessments. In the second visit, participants will interact with a confederate in tasks to build social affiliatio before engaging in the functional neuroimaging paradigm described above that will assess whether the varying levels of social affiliation (physical contact) influences the attenuation of emotional responses to threat. The primary aims of the proposed research study are 1) to determine whether individuals with schizophrenia experience the neural benefits of social affiliation in regulating emotional responses to threat relative to healthy controls, 2) assess the relationship between this social regulation of emotion and negative symptoms, and 3) examine the relationship between this social regulation of emotion and social skill and functioning in schizophrenia patients. Training goals for this award are to gain a scientific conceptualization of social affiliative processes in relation to negative symptoms and social functioning in schizophrenia, develop research methods and statistical skills in designing and analyzing multi-method assessments of psychopathology, and develop a background in functional neuroimaging methods.

Public Health Relevance

Schizophrenia is a significant public health concern with chronic and severe symptoms, and though treatments are available, there is no cure. Negative symptoms in schizophrenia describe a lack of normal experiences of pleasure, sociality, and affect, and they are of particular concern because they have been related to worse functional impairment. This study will use psychological and neuroimaging methods to examine relationships among negative symptoms, the neural basis of the social regulation of emotion, and functional impairment in schizophrenia.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Chavez, Mark
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University of Maryland College Park
Schools of Arts and Sciences
College Park
United States
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