Sensory-based and higher-order operations contribute to abnormal emotional prosody processing in schizophrenia: an electrophysiological investigation

Pinheiro AP, Del Re E, Mezin J, Nestor PG, Rauber A, McCarley RW, Gonçalves OF, Niznikiewicz MA

Psychol Med 2013 Mar;43(3):603-18

PMID: 22781212


BACKGROUND: Schizophrenia is characterized by deficits in emotional prosody (EP) perception. However, it is not clear which stages of processing prosody are abnormal and whether the presence of semantic content contributes to the abnormality. This study aimed to examine event-related potential (ERP) correlates of EP processing in 15 chronic schizophrenia individuals and 15 healthy controls.

METHOD: A total of 114 sentences with neutral semantic content [sentences with semantic content (SSC) condition] were generated by a female speaker (38 with happy, 38 with angry, and 38 with neutral intonation). The same sentences were synthesized and presented in the ‘pure prosody’ sentences (PPS) condition where semantic content was unintelligible.

RESULTS: Group differences were observed for N100 and P200 amplitude: patients were characterized by more negative N100 for SSC, and more positive P200 for angry and happy SSC and happy PPS. Correlations were found between delusions and P200 amplitude for happy SSC and PPS. Higher error rates in the recognition of EP were also observed in schizophrenia: higher error rates in neutral SSC were associated with reduced N100, and higher error rates in angry SSC were associated with reduced P200.

CONCLUSIONS: These results indicate that abnormalities in prosody processing occur at the three stages of EP processing, and are enhanced in SSC. Correlations between P200 amplitude for happy prosody and delusions suggest a role that abnormalities in the processing of emotionally salient acoustic cues may play in schizophrenia symptomatology. Correlations between ERP and behavioral data point to a relationship between early sensory abnormalities and prosody recognition in schizophrenia.