The term social cognition is defined in various ways, but generally refers to the mental operations that underlie social interactions, including perceiving, interpreting, and generating responses to the intentions, dispositions, and behaviors of others.1–4
In humans, social cognition means people thinking and forming impressions about people. Social cognitive processes are how we draw inferences about other people's beliefs and intentions and how we weigh social situational factors in making these inferences. Over the past 15 years, clinical investigators and behavioral scientists have increasingly employed social cognitive constructs to explore the symptoms and interpersonal deficits that characterize schizophrenia.5–7
Indeed, social cognition has emerged as a high priority topic within schizophrenia research as evidenced by a burgeoning empirical literature and increased attention in scientific meetings.8
The impetus for the present meeting on social cognition in schizophrenia arose from 2 events. First, social cognition was seen as a key domain for consideration during the first meeting of the NIMH-sponsored Measurement and Treatment Research to Improve Cognition in Schizophrenia (MATRICS) Initiative. Social cognition was ultimately included as 1 of the 7 domains represented in the MATRICS Consensus Cognitive Battery for clinical trials in schizophrenia.9,10
Second, social cognition was a specific topic of discussion at the New Approaches Conference (NAC), which was the final meeting of the MATRICS conference series. Although there was general agreement among NAC participants that social cognition is a valuable construct for understanding the nature and disability of schizophrenia, a number of potential obstacles were identified that could impede progress in this area, including the lack of agreement on terms, definitions, and measurement approaches.8
This article summarizes a subsequent meeting sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to address issues raised in the NAC. The meeting, “Social Cognition in Schizophrenia: Basic Definitions, Methods of Assessment, and Research Opportunities” was organized by Drs Green, Penn, and Heinssen and took place in March 28–29, 2006. Participants included the authors on this article as well as additional extramural program staff from NIMH. The main topics and discussion questions that structured the meeting are included in . The goals of the meeting were to reach agreement, to the extent possible, on the definitions of terms in this area and on the significance of social cognition in schizophrenia research for understanding clinical symptoms and outcome and to suggest promising research directions. The remainder of this article summarizes the discussion of these topics.
Topics and Questions at the NIMH Workshop on Social Cognition in Schizophrenia