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BACKGROUND - Higher levels of facial processing, such as recognition of the individuality and emotional expression of faces, are abnormal in schizophrenia. It is unknown, however, whether the visual detection of a face as face is impaired as well.
METHODS - We examined the performance of schizophrenia patients (n=29) and normal controls (n=28) in locating a line-drawn face on the left or the right side of a larger line drawing. To prevent the normal formation of general facial impressions, stimulus presentations were brief (13-104 ms). The face stimuli were either displayed upright or inverted in order to study the face inversion effect, ie, the specific effect of stimulus inversion on face processing.
RESULTS - Schizophrenia patients showed a significantly reduced face inversion effect, resulting primarily from significantly lower accuracy in detecting upright faces than normal controls. In tree detection, a comparison task that was also administered, the stimulus inversion effect was similarly small in both groups.
CONCLUSION - Given the primitive nature and brief duration of the stimuli, and the simplicity of the task, these results indicate that at the initial visual detection stage, facial processing is inefficient in schizophrenia. By isolating face detection from other aspects of face recognition, this study identifies a face-specific visual deficit in schizophrenia, which may ultimately contribute to impaired face-related cognitive and emotional processing and social interaction.