Social cognition in schizophrenia: from social stimuli processing to social engagement.
Social cognition consists of several skills which allow us to interact with other humans. These skills include social stimuli processing, drawing inferences about others' mental states, and engaging in social interactions. In recent years, there has been growing evidence of social cognitive impairments in patients with schizophrenia. Apparently, these impairments are separable from general neurocognitive impairments, such as attention, memory, and executive functioning. Moreover, social cognition seems to be a main determinant of functional outcome and could be used as a guide to elaborate new pharmacological and psychological treatments. However, most of these studies focus on individual mechanisms and observational perspectives; only few of them study schizophrenic patients during interactive situations. We first review evidences of social cognitive impairments both in social stimuli processing and in mental state attribution. We focus on the relationship between these functions and both general cognitive impairments and functional outcome. We next review recent game theory approaches to the study of how social engagement occurs in schizophrenic patients. The advantage of using game theory is that game-oriented tasks can assess social decision making in an interactive everyday situation model. Finally, we review proposed theoretical models used to explain social alterations and their underlying biological mechanisms. Based on interactive studies, we propose a framework which takes into account the dynamic nature of social processes. Thus, understanding social skills as a result of dynamical systems could facilitate the development of both basic research and clinical applications oriented to psychiatric populations.