Affective and physiological reactivity to emotional comments in individuals at elevated risk for psychosis

Marc J. Weintraub, Amy Weisman de Mamani, William J. Villano, Travis C. Evans, Zachary B. Millman, Jill M. Hooley, Kiara R. Timpano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Individuals with schizophrenia are at increased risk of relapse when they live in highly critical (i.e., high expressed emotion; EE)family environments. It remains less clear, however, how individuals at elevated risk for a psychotic disorder react to the social stress of EE. Here we examined whether individuals at elevated risk for developing schizophrenia report greater subjective changes in affect and have increased physiological reactivity after hearing critical, praising and neutral comments. Method: Measures of heart rate, heart rate variability, skin conductance, and self-reported affective ratings were used to assess differential responses to EE-type stimuli in 38 individuals at elevated-risk for psychosis and 38 low-risk controls. Results: The elevated-risk group and low-risk controls, did not differ in their initial affective and physiological reactivity to criticism. However, during the recovery period following the criticism, the elevated-risk group demonstrated greater heart rate activation. They also showed more sensitivity to praise. Although elevated-risk participants initially had higher baseline levels of negative affect and heart rate, following praise, these levels reduced and became indistinguishable from the levels of low-risk controls. Conclusions: These findings suggest that at-risk individuals may have more difficulty recovering from criticism than their self-report data might suggest. They may also derive physiological and affective benefits from praise. Important clinical implications of these findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)428-435
Number of pages8
JournalSchizophrenia Research
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • At-risk
  • Criticism
  • Expressed emotion
  • Heart rate
  • Praise

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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