Pervasive social cognition deficits are evident early in the course of schizophrenia and are directly linked to functional outcome, making them an important target for intervention. Here, we tested the feasibility of use, and initiated the evaluation of efficacy, of a novel, neuroplasticity-based online training program (SocialVille) in young adults with schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia patients (n = 17) completed 24 hours of online SocialVille game play either from home or at a clinic, over a 6–10 week period. We examined training feasibility, gains on the SocialVille exercises relative to matched healthy controls (n = 17), and changes on measures of social cognition, social functioning, global functioning and motivation.
Subjects adhered to training requirements, and rated SocialVille in the medium to high range in satisfaction, enjoyment, and ease of use. Subjects demonstrated significant, large improvements on the speeded SocialVille tasks, and small to moderate improvements on the working memory tasks. Post-training performance on the SocialVille tasks were similar to initial performance of the healthy controls. Subjects also showed improvements on standard measures of social cognition, social functioning, and motivation. No improvements were recorded for emotion recognition indices of the MSCEIT, or on quality of life scales.
This study provides an initial proof of concept for online social cognition training in schizophrenia. This form of training demonstrated feasibility and resulted in within-subject gains in social functioning and motivation. This pilot study represents a first step towards validating this training approach; randomized controlled trials, now underway, are designed to confirm and extend these findings.