A study performed by Hui-jie Li et. al. based in Beijing, China and published in Schizophrenia Research vol. 134 (2012) tested 12 patients with schizophrenia for facial emotion processing. In the study, 12 of the non-ill siblings of the patients were also tested along with a control group of 12 people who were matched for demographic variables like IQ, age, gender, and education levels.
The researchers were especially interested in evaluating whether or not the patients with schizophrenia had deficits in facial emotional processing like other studies from Western populations have indicated. In essence, this was a replication study paired with a cultural component to test if facial emotional processing deficits are universal or not.
The data obtained from 8-minute fMRI scanning sessions where participants were shown 20 happy faces, 20 fearful faces and 20 neutral faces (at different times with different time intervals) were analyzed and it was found that the patients with schizophrenia showed abnormal activation of the “social brain neural circuit.” In addition, the sibling participants showed slight abnormalities that fell between what the patients with schizophrenia displayed and what the control group displayed. This result led researchers to hypothesize that there might be a deficit even in the non-ill siblings that the patients’ brains are trying to compensate for.
During the study the control group showed greater activation in various brain regions that processed the happy faces, but the patients with schizophrenia showed greater activation than the controls in the left middle frontal gyrus when processing the fearful faces. The sibling participants also showed greater activation than the controls (but less than their siblings with schizophrenia) when processing fearful faces, but had similar activation responses to controls with the happy faces.
The results of the study are similar to previous studies done to test for facial emotional processing in people with schizophrenia indicating that there are universal deficits in facial emotional processing that patients with schizophrenia must compensate for.