Overly Strong Priors for Socially Meaningful Visual Signals Are Linked to Psychosis Proneness in Healthy Individuals

Frontiers in Psychology 12 (2021)
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According to the predictive coding theory of psychosis, hallucinations and delusions are explained by an overweighing of high-level prior expectations relative to sensory information that leads to false perceptions of meaningful signals. However, it is currently unclear whether the hypothesized overweighing of priors represents a pervasive alteration that extends to the visual modality and takes already effect at early automatic processing stages. Here, we addressed these questions by studying visual perception of socially meaningful stimuli in healthy individuals with varying degrees of psychosis proneness. In a first task, we quantified participants’ prior for detecting faces in visual noise using a Bayesian decision model. In a second task, we measured participants’ prior for detecting direct gaze stimuli that were rendered invisible by continuous flash suppression. We found that the prior for detecting faces in noise correlated with hallucination proneness as well as delusion proneness. The prior for detecting invisible direct gaze was significantly associated with hallucination proneness but not conclusively with delusion proneness. Our results provide evidence for the idea that overly strong high-level priors for automatically detecting socially meaningful stimuli might constitute a processing alteration in psychosis.



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