Deficits in face emotion recognition (FER) in schizophrenia are well documented, and have been proposed as a potential intermediate phenotype for schizophrenia liability. However, research on the relationship between psychosis vulnerability and FER has mixed findings and methodological limitations. Moreover, no study has yet characterized the relationship between FER ability and level of psychosis-proneness. If FER ability varies continuously with psychosis-proneness, this suggests a relationship between FER and polygenic risk factors.
We tested two large internet samples to see whether psychometric psychosis-proneness, as measured by the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire-Brief (SPQ-B), is related to differences in face emotion identification and discrimination or other face processing abilities.
Experiment 1 (n=2332) showed that psychosis-proneness predicts face emotion identification ability but not face gender identification ability. Experiment 2 (n=1514) demonstrated that psychosis-proneness also predicts performance on face emotion but not face identity discrimination. The tasks in Experiment 2 used identical stimuli and task parameters, differing only in emotion/identity judgment. Notably, the relationships demonstrated in Experiments 1 and 2 persisted even when individuals with the highest psychosis-proneness levels (the putative high-risk group) were excluded from analysis.
Our data suggest that FER ability is related to individual differences in psychosis-like characteristics in the normal population, and that these differences cannot be accounted for by differences in face processing and/or visual perception. Our results suggest that FER may provide a useful candidate intermediate phenotype.