Schizophrenia is associated with abnormalities in emotional processing and social cognition. However, it remains unclear whether patients show abnormal neurophysiological responses during fast, online appraisals of the emotional meaning of social information. To examine this question, event-related potentials (ERPs) were collected while 18 schizophrenia patients and 18 demographically matched controls evaluated 2-sentence vignettes describing negative, positive, or neutral social situations. ERPs were time locked to a critical word (CW) in the second sentence that conferred emotional valence. A late positivity effect to emotional (vs neutral) CWs was seen in both groups (in controls, to negative and positive CWs; in patients, to negative CWs only). However, the controls showed a greater late positivity effect to the negative and positive (vs neutral) CWs than the schizophrenia patients at mid-posterior (negative vs neutral) and at right posterior peripheral (positive vs neutral) sites. These between-group differences arose from reduced amplitudes of the late positivity to the negative and positive CWs in the patients relative to the controls; there was no difference between the 2 groups in the amplitude of the late positivity to the neutral CWs. These findings suggest that schizophrenia is associated with a specific neural deficit during the online evaluation of emotionally valent, socially relevant information.
A cardinal feature of schizophrenia is the poor comprehension, or misinterpretation, of the emotional meaning of social interactions and events, which can sometimes take the form of a persecutory delusion. It has been shown that the comprehension of the emotional meaning of the social world involves a midline paralimbic cortical network. However, the function of this network during emotional appraisals in patients with schizophrenia is not well understood. In this study, hemodynamic responses were measured in 14 patients with schizophrenia and 18 healthy subjects during the evaluation of descriptions of social situations with negative, positive, and neutral affective valence. The healthy and schizophrenia groups displayed opposite patterns of responses to emotional and neutral social situations within the medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices--healthy participants showed greater activity to the emotional compared to the neutral situations, while patients exhibited greater responses to the neutral compared to the emotional situations. Moreover, the magnitude of the response within bilateral cingulate gyri to the neutral social stimuli predicted delusion severity in the patients with schizophrenia. These findings suggest that impaired functioning of cortical midline structures in schizophrenia may underlie faulty interpretations of social events, contributing to delusion formation.
Animacy is known to play an important role in language processing and production, but debate remains as to how it exerts its effects: 1) through links to syntactic ordering, 2) through inherent differences between animate and inanimate entities in their salience/lexico-semantic accessibility, 3) through links to specific thematic roles. We contrasted these three accounts in two event related potential (ERP) experiments examining the processing of direct object arguments in simple English sentences. In Experiment 1, we found a larger N400 to animate than inanimate direct object arguments assigned the Patient role, ruling out the second account. In Experiment 2 we found no difference in the N400 evoked by animate direct object arguments assigned the Patient role (prototypically inanimate) and those assigned the Experiencer role (prototypically animate), ruling out the third account. We therefore suggest that animacy may impact processing through a direct link to syntactic linear ordering, at least on post-verbal arguments in English. We also examined processing on direct object arguments that violated the animacy-based selection restriction constraints of their preceding verbs. These violations evoked a robust P600, which was not modulated by thematic role assignment or reversibility, suggesting that the so-called semantic P600 is driven by overall propositional impossibility, rather than thematic role reanalysis.
This study examined neural activity associated with establishing causal relationships across sentences during on-line comprehension. ERPs were measured while participants read and judged the relatedness of three-sentence scenarios in which the final sentence was highly causally related, intermediately related, and causally unrelated to its context. Lexico-semantic co-occurrence was matched across the three conditions using a Latent Semantic Analysis. Critical words in causally unrelated scenarios evoked a larger N400 than words in both highly causally related and intermediately related scenarios, regardless of whether they appeared before or at the sentence-final position. At midline sites, the N400 to intermediately related sentence-final words was attenuated to the same degree as to highly causally related words, but otherwise the N400 to intermediately related words fell in between that evoked by highly causally related and intermediately related words. No modulation of the late positivity/P600 component was observed across conditions. These results indicate that both simple and complex causal inferences can influence the earliest stages of semantically processing an incoming word. Further, they suggest that causal coherence, at the situation level, can influence incremental word-by-word discourse comprehension, even when semantic relationships between individual words are matched.
The present study investigated the contribution of lexico-semantic associations to impairments in establishing reference in schizophrenia. We examined event-related potentials as schizophrenia patients and healthy, demographically matched controls read five-sentence scenarios. Sentence 4 introduced a noun that referred back to three possible referents introduced in Sentences 1-3. These referents were contextually appropriate, contextually inappropriate but lexico-semantically associated, and contextually inappropriate and lexico-semantically nonassociated. In order to determine whether participants had correctly linked the anaphor to its referent, the final sentence reintroduced each referent, and participants indicated whether the last two sentences referred to the same entity. Results indicated that between 300 and 400 ms, patients, like healthy controls, used discourse context to link the noun with its preceding referent. However, between 400 and 500 ms, neural activity in patients was modulated only by lexico-semantic associations, rather than by discourse context. Moreover, patients were also more likely than controls to incorrectly link the noun with contextually inappropriate but lexico-semantically associated referents. These results suggest that at least some types of referential impairments may be driven by sustained activation of contextually inappropriate lexico-semantic associations.