Social alienation in schizophrenia patients: Association with insula responsiveness to facial expressions of disgust

Christian Lindner, Udo Dannlowski, Kirsten Walhöfer, Maike Rödiger, Birgit Maisch, Jochen Bauer, Patricia Ohrmann, Rebekka Lencer, Pienie Zwitserlood, Anette Kersting, Walter Heindel, Volker Arolt, Harald Kugel, Thomas Suslow

18 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Among the functional neuroimaging studies on emotional face processing in schizophrenia, few have used paradigms with facial expressions of disgust. In this study, we investigated whether schizophrenia patients show less insula activation to macro-expressions (overt, clearly visible expressions) and micro-expressions (covert, very brief expressions) of disgust than healthy controls. Furthermore, departing from the assumption that disgust faces signal social rejection, we examined whether perceptual sensitivity to disgust is related to social alienation in patients and controls. We hypothesized that high insula responsiveness to facial disgust predicts social alienation. Methods: We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure insula activation in 36 schizophrenia patients and 40 healthy controls. During scanning, subjects passively viewed covert and overt presentations of disgust and neutral faces. To measure social alienation, a social loneliness scale and an agreeableness scale were administered. Results: Schizophrenia patients exhibited reduced insula activation in response to covert facial expressions of disgust. With respect to macro-expressions of disgust, no between-group differences emerged. In patients, insula responsiveness to covert faces of disgust was positively correlated with social loneliness. Furthermore, patients' insula responsiveness to covert and overt faces of disgust was negatively correlated with agreeableness. In controls, insula responsiveness to covert expressions of disgust correlated negatively with agreeableness. Discussion: Schizophrenia patients show reduced insula responsiveness to micro-expressions but not macro-expressions of disgust compared to healthy controls. In patients, low agreeableness was associated with stronger insula response to micro- and macro-expressions of disgust. Patients with a strong tendency to feel uncomfortable with social interactions appear to be characterized by a high sensitivity for facial expression signaling social rejection. Given the associations of insula responsiveness to covert disgust expression with low agreeableness in healthy individuals, insula responsiveness to expressions of disgust might be in general a neural marker of the personality trait of agreeableness.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere85014
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22.01.2014

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


Dive into the research topics of 'Social alienation in schizophrenia patients: Association with insula responsiveness to facial expressions of disgust'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this