Theory of Mind and Emotion Processing Training for Schizophrenia

Impairments in social cognition are critical predictors of social functioning in patients with schizophrenia. Emotion processing (EP) and theory of mind (ToM) are hypothesized to influence real-world behavior more directly than basic cognition and represent important targets of intervention. The use of video scenes depicting human interactions could constitute an appropriate tool to enhance understanding of characters behavior and stimulate inferences on mental states. The aim of our pilot study was to evaluate longitudinally, with a controlled trial, the feasibility and the efficacy of a single-paradigm emotion recognition and ToM training designed for outpatients affected by schizophrenia, with the goal to create an ecological treatment, overcoming artificial laboratory biases, by the use of specific videotaped material. Fifty-two outpatients were randomly assigned to an EP and ToM video-based training (n = 27) or to a standard social cognitive rehabilitation treatment (n = 24). They were assessed before and after 12 weeks of intervention and compared to a time-matched control group (n = 24). Our results show a statistically significant improvement in ToM abilities, confirming the hypothesis of the enhancing potential of social cognitive interventions, but no changes with respect to EP; despite the need for a deeper examination, these data support further development of this treatment approach.
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