Human beings are highly social creatures, consequently social cues strongly influence the way we interpret and interact with our environment. We are interested in how the perception of social cues affects decision-making processes in both healthy controls and patients with schizophrenia. Specifically, we ask participants to perform a task which requires them to integrate information over trials in order to optimise behaviour. By introducing a social component that is irrelevant to the task we can see how socially-relevant information affects how information is integrated.
In this study we aim to investigate how a single dose of oxytocin might affect performance on a decision-making task in patients with schizophrenia and healthy controls. Oxytocin is a hormone that seems to be involved in the formation of social bonds. In previous studies, oxytocin has been shown to modify the way social stimuli (such as faces) are perceived. Having received oxytocin, subjects appear to be less threatened by negative social stimuli (e.g. an angry face), and also display higher levels of trust and empathy towards others. We have demonstrated that oxytocin modifies behaviour in both healthy controls and patients with schizophrenia on our decision-making task in a behavioural setting. Specifically, participants show less bias in favour of a smiling face over an angry face. This may be because the perceived threat level related to the angry face has been diminished. Using fMRI, we aim to show that oxytocin exerts its behavioural effects through modulation of activity in the amygdala and other areas associated with theory of mind. We also would like to use eye-tracking to show that gaze to the eye region increases in patients with schizophrenia after the administration of oxytocin.