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Research Progress

People with Schizophrenia and Anhedonia Exhibit Reduced Ability to Anticipate Pleasurable Events in Future

Nov 07, 2018

In everyday life, when we are planning ahead for vacations or special arrangements for social activities, we need to simulate and pre-experience these future events. This kind of imagination process is known as prospection. Emotion plays an important role in this planning process. Usually, these planning for positive events are always full of joy and heightened mood for the planned events. Moreover, we tend to generate positive future events more vividly and have a greater sense of pre-experiencing these events than negative future events.

However, this future forecasting ability associating with pleasurable experience is much reduced in patients with schizophrenia, a symptom known as anhedonia that hinders the patients from approaching, experiencing and enjoying the pleasurable social interactions. However, it is still not clear about the underlying processing of prospection in this clinical group and those individuals with subclinical symptoms of anhedonia.

Dr. Raymond Chan from the Neuropsychology and Applied Cognitive Neuroscience (NACN) Laboratory, CAS Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology, together with Department of Psychology, the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, has collaborated with Prof. Ann Kring from the University of California, Berkeley, to examine prospection and anticipatory pleasure experience in patients with schizophrenia and individuals with social anhedonia.

 They firstly administered an affective prospection task specifically capturing prospection ability to 31 patients with schizophrenia and 29 healthy controls.

The task consisted of a series of positive, neutral and negative pictures that identified from the International Affective Picture System. These pictures were then used as cues to prompt the patients and controls to prospect their own future.

Then self-reported measures on valence and arousal were recorded. Moreover, a set of checklists were also used to capture self-reported trait pleasure.

Their findings showed that patients with schizophrenia reported less anticipatory pleasure, generated less rich and vivid prospections, and reported less pre-experiencing of future events than healthy controls.

Then they applied the same set of task and checklists to 34 individuals with social anhedonia and 33 individuals without social anhedonia.

Their findings showed that individuals with social anhedonia also reported less anticipatory pleasure, generated less rich prospections, and reported less pleasure and pre-experiencing for future events than those individuals without social anhedonia.

Taken together, these studies demonstrate both patients with established schizophrenia and those individuals with social anhedonia exhibit difficulties in simulating and pre-experiencing themselves into personal events.

Dr. Chan's team is now undertaking a functional imaging task to specifically examine the underlying neural mechanism for people to perform the prospection task inside a brain scanner.

These findings highlight the important role of emotion for these people to anticipate future pleasurable events, and hence, potential psychological intervention development to augment the mediation regime for patients with prospection impairments.

The results are now published online in Journal of Abnormal Psychology with the title of "Prospection deficits in schizophrenia: Evidence from clinical and subclinical samples".

The study was supported by the National Science Fund China, the National Basic Research Programme of China, the Beijing Training Project for the Leading Talents in Science and Technology, the Beijing Municipal Science & Technology Commission Grant, and the CAS Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology.

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