Accumulating evidence has suggested that patients with schizophrenia failed to translate emotional salience into effortful behaviour. Typically, schizophrenia patients are not willing to pay more effort to gain greater reward due to their amotivation, one of the main negative symptoms observed in this clinical group. However, previous studies were mainly limited to patients with established schizophrenia. It is still not fully clear whether unaffected first-degree relatives of patients with schizophrenia and at-risk individuals with schizotypal traits would also exhibit similar dissociation between affective experience and motivated behaviours.
Dr. Raymond Chan and his team from the Neuropsychology and Applied Cognitive Neuroscience (NACN) Laboratory, CAS Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology have examined emotion-behaviour coupling in three independent samples, including (1) 65 patients with schizophrenia and 63 matched healthy controls, (2) 40 unaffected first-degree relatives and 45 matched healthy controls, and (3) 32 individuals with social anhedonia and 32 matched healthy controls, using a computer test specifically designed to capture emotion-behaviour decoupling. The task requested the participants to expend an effort either to increase or decrease their exposure to emotion-inducing stimuli. This task has been well validated to discriminate patients with schizophrenia from healthy controls.
The results showed that patients reported similar affective experiences as their controls, while their unaffected relatives and individuals with high levels of social anhedonia exhibited attenuated affective experiences, in particular in the arousal aspect. Compared with their respective control groups, all of the three groups showed emotion-behaviour decoupling.
The present findings suggest that emotion-behaviour decoupling has also been presence in unaffected first-degree relatives of schizophrenia patients and individuals with social anhedonia. These people experience emotions as less arousing, and their emotions are less likely to motivate effortful behaviour, compared with individuals without a family history of mental disorder. These findings provide empirical evidence for emotional and behavioural anhedonia in these high-risk populations. In addition to replicating earlier findings of emotion-behaviour decoupling in schizophrenia patients, this study also provides the first evidence for familial association of this important trait marker for schizophrenia.
This study was supported by grants from the National Science Fund China, the National Basic Research Programme of China (Precision psychiatry Programme), the Beijing Training Project for the Leading Talents in Science and Technology, and the Beijing Municipal Science & Technology Commission Grant.
Lui, S.S. Y., Liu, A. C. Y., Chui, W. W. H., Li, Z., Geng, F., Wang, Y., Heerey, E. A., Cheung, E. F. C., Chan, R. C.. K. * (2016a). The nature of anhedonia and avolition in patients with first-episode schizophrenia. Psychological Medicine 46(2), 437-447.
Lui, S. S. Y., Shi, Y. F., Au, A. C. W., Tsui, C. F., Chan, C. K. Y., Leung, M M. W., Wong, P. T. Y., Wang, Y., Yan, C., Chan, R. C. K.* (2016b). Affective experience and motivated behavior in schizophrenia spectrum disorders: Evidence from clinical and non-clinical samples. Neuropsychology 30(6), 673-684.