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Misinterpreting Social Cues

From ScienceDaily 10-01-15

A new study sheds light on why people with schizophrenia misinterpret social cues in others, often leading to unpleasant paranoid and persecutory thoughts

The [researchers] found that patients with schizophrenia are able to interpret meaningful gestures and incidental movements as accurately as healthy subjects. However, when the direction of the gestures was ambiguous (i.e. not obviously directed at or away from them), they were much more likely to misinterpret the gestures as being directed towards them [“personalizing”].

According to the researchers, this could indicate an increased tendency to self-infer these ambiguous social cues or to ‘hyper-mentalise’, whereby intent is falsely inferred from the actions of others. Both of these misinterpretations could underpin the incidence of paranoid thought experienced by patients with schizophrenia, suggest the study authors. The patients’ confidence in their interpretation was found to be strongly associated with their propensity to experience hallucinatory symptoms.

Professor Sukhi Shergill from the Department of Psychosis Studies, said: 'Humans are social beings, often finding joy in interacting with others. While most attention is on talking with each other, non-verbal behaviour such as gestures, body movement and facial expression also play a very important role in conveying the message.

'However, the message being conveyed is not always clear, or perceived as a positive one, and an extreme example is evident in patients suffering from schizophrenia who show a strong tendency to misinterpret the intentions of other people in a malevolent manner.

10.1017/S0033291715001622

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