Violent Offending in Males With or Without Schizophrenia: A Role for Social Cognition?

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Background and hypothesis: Reduced social cognition has been reported in individuals who have committed interpersonal violence. It is unclear if individuals with schizophrenia and a history of violence have larger impairments than violent individuals without psychosis and non-violent individuals with schizophrenia. We examined social cognition in two groups with violent offenses, comparing their performance to non-violent individuals with schizophrenia and healthy controls.

Study design: Two social cognitive domains were assessed in four groups: men with a schizophrenia spectrum disorder with (SSD-V, n = 27) or without (SSD-NV, n = 42) a history of violence, incarcerated men serving preventive detention sentences (V, n = 22), and healthy male controls (HC, n = 76). Theory of mind (ToM) was measured with the Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition (MASC), body emotion perception with Emotion in Biological Motion (EmoBio) test.

Study results: Kruskal-Wallis H-tests revealed overall group differences for social cognition. SSD-V had a global and clinically significant social cognitive impairment. V had a specific impairment, for ToM. Binary logistic regressions predicting violence category membership from social cognition and psychosis (SSD status) were conducted. The model with best fit, explaining 18%-25% of the variance, had ToM as the only predictor.

Conclusions: Social cognitive impairment was present in individuals with a history of violence, with larger and more widespread impairment seen in schizophrenia. ToM predicted violence category membership, psychosis did not. The results suggest a role for social cognition in understanding interpersonal violence.