Cortical Thickness, Empathy, Social Cognition, Schizophrenia


Background—Cognitive empathy is supported by the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), anterior midcingulate cortex (aMCC), insula (INS), supplementary motor area (SMA), medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), and precuneus (PREC). In healthy controls, cortical thickness in these regions has been linked to cognitive empathy. As cognitive empathy is impaired in schizophrenia, we examined whether reduced cortical thickness in these regions was associated with poorer cognitive empathy in this population.

Methods—41 clinically-stable community-dwelling individuals with schizophrenia and 46 healthy controls group-matched on demographic variables completed self-report empathy questionnaires, a cognitive empathy task, and structural magnetic resonance imaging. We examined between-group differences in study variables using t-tests and analyses of variance. Next, we used Pearson correlations to evaluate the relationship between cognitive empathy and cortical thickness in the mPFC, IFG, aMCC, INS, SMA, TPJ, and PREC in both groups.

Results—Individuals with schizophrenia demonstrated cortical thinning in the IFG, INS, SMA, TPJ, and PREC (all p0.10). Conclusions—Individuals with schizophrenia have reduced cortical thickness in empathyrelated neural regions and significant impairments in cognitive empathy. Interestingly, cortical thickness was related to cognitive empathy in controls but not in the schizophrenia group. We discuss other mechanisms that may account for cognitive empathy impairment in schizophrenia.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date





Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor

Included in

Psychology Commons