The present application is in response to Strategy 3.2 of the NIMH strategic plan, which requests the development of standardized measures of functional outcome that can be utilized in clinical assessment and intervention studies. This goal will be met by achieving a consensus definition of crucial social cognitive domains and developing psychometrically sound measures that can be used to assess these domains in various types of treatment research involving people with schizophrenia. Social cognition is a set of cognitive processes that are involved in how individuals understand and respond to social information. The social cognitive abilities of individuals with schizophrenia have been strongly linked to functional, real-world social outcomes, and social cognition is increasingly seen as a viable treatment target. It is therefore imperative that sensitive and psychometrically sound measures be developed for accurate assessment. The first phase of the proposed project will conduct an extensive survey of experts in the field to identify the core domains of social cognition and current tasks that assess each domain (Specific Aim 1). A carefully selected smaller group of expert panelists will then convene to evaluate each identified domain and task using consensus attainment procedures previously developed by the RAND Corporation and used in previous large-scale mental health assessment studies. The panel will reach a consensus on the most relevant domains of social cognition and select the most promising tasks within each domain for further study and development (Specific Aim 2). These candidate measures will then be compiled into a comprehensive battery and administered to a large sample of individuals with schizophrenia and healthy controls at two different sites (University of Miami and Southern Methodist University). Data will be utilized to assess the reliability and validity characteristics of each task (Specific Aim 3). Data from this psychometric study will be shared with a scientific advisory group to evaluate the results. Otherwise promising candidate measures that show inadequate characteristics will then be modified and pilot tested to ensure the success of the modifications (Specific Aim 4). Finally, a three-site validation study (to increase the generalizability of the findings) will then be conducted to determine the psychometric properties of the final measures (Specific Aim 5). Data from this portion of the project will also be used to systematically examine the relationship between these refined social cognition measures and aspects of functional outcome. The findings of this project will yield a uniform definition of social cognition that will guide future research and develop psychometrically sound measures of social cognition that will be valuable in assessing the effectiveness of psychosocial and biomedical interventions.
Schizophrenia is a complex brain disorder that includes significant impairments in the ability to function in everyday settings that are clearly related to social cognitive deficits. Empirically based and sound instrumentation is key to assessing the outcomes of interventions targeted to ameliorate social cognitive impairments. The goal of the proposed study is to identify and improve the best existing measures of social cognition so that they can be suitably applied in large-scale treatment studies. This project will develop consensus on the critical elements of social cognition, identify the best existing measures of social cognition, collect new data to evaluate the psychometric characteristics of these measures, modify them to optimize their utility, and collect additional data to determine the psychometric properties of the final measures based on a large and diverse sample, while focusing continuously on real-world functional outcomes and the role of social cognition, as compared to neurocognition and social competence, for the prediction of real-world functioning
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