Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “The Impact of Poor Nonverbal Social Perception on Functional Capacity in Schizophrenia”, by Chapellier, V.; Palivdou, A.; Maderthaner, L.; von Känel, S. and Walther, S. (2022), in which authors carry out a study with people with schizophrenia to know if their ability to recognize nonverbal cues is the same as that of people who do not live with the disease.

Schizophrenia is a severe psychiatric disorder, affecting almost 1% of the world’s population. It is characterized by delusions, hallucinations and, in general, negative symptoms that impair social cognition. 

Generally, by social cognition we mean the psychological processes that allow us to decode the behaviors and intentions of others. Moreover, its impairment is not only frequent in patients with schizophrenia, but also in patients with psychosis. 

Social cognitive deficits are assumed to be a stable trait that precedes and thus helps predict the onset of schizophrenia. And furthermore, it informs on the relapse frequency of patients. 

Therefore, these deficiencies play a key role, not only in the development of the disorder but also in the functional outcome of patients. 

Nonverbal social perception, which is the ability to decode relevant, nonverbal interpersonal cues, appears to be impaired in patients with schizophrenia, according to several studies from some years ago (reference to these can be found in the original article). 

The correct interpretation of, for example, facial expressions and body movements, greatly limits the communication of patients with schizophrenia: they have a greater tendency to perceive ambiguous gestures and direct gaze as self-referential or even threatening. 

Despite attempts to understand these social cognitive deficits in people with schizophrenia, the role of nonverbal social perception remains poorly understood. 

A 2002 study mentions that impaired nonverbal social perception is related to symptoms of disorganization, which, in turn, could be associated with schizophrenia.

In addition, deficits in nonverbal social perception have been associated in some studies with poor functional outcome, and this in turn is related to poor adaptive skills relevant in the real world for people’s daily functioning. 

The aim of this study was to determine whether patients with schizophrenia are more successful performing nonverbal cue recognition tasks, in addition to briefly exploring the above ideas. 

To do so, they gathered 41 clinical patients suffering from schizophrenia and 30 people without the disease to act as a control group. Data were collected between December 2019 and June 2021. 

Nonverbal social perception was assessed using sound videos and psychologically valid scales with subscales to obtain information about accuracy in interpreting facial expressions, emotional prosody, and body movements. 

Authors obtained data that allowed them to confirm that patients with schizophrenia do, indeed, have worse accuracy in nonverbal social perception compared to the control group. 

Most interestingly, their performance worsens markedly when it comes to recognizing prosodic cues. Regarding other channels of nonverbal expression, the differences were not very marked. 

Moreover, as authors expected, impaired nonverbal social perception was associated with limited functional ability. This has repercussions in, for example, poor self-care skills, few activities in general or impaired work skills. 

Thus, the difficulty in decoding nonverbal cues in patients with schizophrenia is key to their ability to function normally in daily life. 

Authors propose that future studies should attempt to determine if there is any type of intervention that will alive these nonverbal perception deficits. This is tremendously important for improving the social and community functioning of people living with schizophrenia, as well as helping them to have an overall higher quality of life, similar to those who are fortunate enough not to have schizophrenia. 

If you want to know more about nonverbal behavior and how it affects personal relationships, visit our Master of Science in Nonverbal and Deceptive Behavior, which you can take in English or Spanish, with special grants for readers of the Nonverbal Communication Blog.


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