Effects of Social Isolation and Loneliness on Social Perception
Hieber, Laura Louise
Individuals with schizophrenia (SZ) have been shown to exhibit deficits in detecting human agents against background noise, such that the signal-to-noise ratio of biological motion perception is significantly reduced. Such impairments in biological motion perception have been associated with delusional beliefs. It has been suggested that hallucinations and delusions emerge in psychosis-prone individuals when prolonged social isolation triggers over-activation of the social brain network, thus fabricating spurious social meaning. The effects of isolation and loneliness on the perception of social stimuli were systematically tested through Biological Motion (BM) discrimination tasks that utilize animated point-light displays of typical human physical activities (running, jumping, kicking, etc.) embedded in varying amounts of noise. Conditions of social exclusion and inclusion were created using a computerized game known as “Cyberball”. First, college students were randomly assigned to inclusion, exclusion and control conditions and subsequently participated in BM detection tasks. Loneliness and risk for psychosis were assessed. Results indicate that social exclusion impaired participant’s BM perception. Moreover, increased PQ-B was associated with greater endorsements of loneliness. Next, SZ participated in these tasks, where trends indicate a positive association between social distress and psychotic symptoms, as well as between symptoms and poorer BM extraction. These results demonstrate a relationship that will be explored in subsequent work, examining potential linkages between social distress and perception in SZ, particularly in relation to the positive symptoms of hallucinations and delusions, with the goal of addressing the adverse impact of loneliness on social cognitive processes and outcomes.