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Mentalizing under influence: abnormal dependence on prior expectations in patients with schizophrenia.

Abstract : An impaired ability to appreciate other people's mental states is a well-established and stable cognitive deficit in schizophrenia, which might explain some aspects of patients' social dysfunction. Yet, despite a wealth of literature on this topic, the basic mechanisms underlying these impairments are still poorly understood, and their links with the clinical dimensions of schizophrenia remain unclear. The present study aimed to investigate the extent to which patients' impaired ability to appreciate other people's intentions (known as mentalizing) may be accounted for by abnormal interaction between the two types of information that contribute to this ability: (i) the sensory evidence conveyed by movement kinematics; and (ii) the observer's prior expectations. We hypothesized that this is not a generalized impairment, but one confined to certain types of intentions. To test this assumption, we designed four tasks in which participants were required to infer either: (i) basic intentions (i.e. the simple goal of a motor act); (ii) superordinate intentions (i.e. the general goal of a sequence of motor acts); (iii) social basic; or (iv) social superordinate intentions (i.e. simple or general goals achieved within the context of a reciprocal interaction). In each of these tasks, both prior expectations and sensory information were manipulated. We found that patients correctly inferred non-social, basic intentions, but experienced difficulties when inferring non-social superordinate intentions and both basic and superordinate social intentions. These poor performances were associated with two abnormal patterns of interaction between prior expectations and sensory evidence. In the non-social superordinate condition, patients relied heavily on their prior expectations, while disregarding sensory evidence. This pattern of interaction predicted the severity of 'positive' symptoms. Social conditions prompted exactly the opposite pattern of interaction: patients exhibited weaker dependence on prior expectations while relying strongly on sensory evidence, and this predicted the severity of 'negative' symptoms. We suggest both these patterns can be accounted for by a disturbance in the Bayesian inferential mechanism that integrates sensory evidence (conveyed by movement kinematics) into prior beliefs (about others' mental states and attitudes) to produce accurate inferences about other people's intentions.
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Submitted on : Monday, January 9, 2012 - 11:56:16 AM
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Valerian Chambon, Elisabeth Pacherie, Guillaume Barbalat, Pierre Jacquet, Nicolas Franck, et al.. Mentalizing under influence: abnormal dependence on prior expectations in patients with schizophrenia.. Brain - A Journal of Neurology , Oxford University Press (OUP), 2011, 134 (Pt 12), pp.3728-3741. ⟨10.1093/brain/awr306⟩. ⟨hal-00657806⟩



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