Social cognition training improves recognition of distinct facial emotions and decreases misattribution errors in healthy individuals

Samantha Evy Schoeneman Patel*, Kristen M. Haut, Erin Guty, David Dodell-Feder, Abhishek Saxena, Mor Nahum, Christine I. Hooker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Facial emotion recognition is a key component of social cognition. Impaired facial emotion recognition is tied to poor psychological wellbeing and deficient social functioning. While previous research has demonstrated the potential for social cognition training to improve overall facial emotion recognition, questions remain regarding what aspects of emotion recognition improve. We report results from a randomized controlled trial that evaluates whether computerized social cognition training can improve recognition of distinct facial emotions in healthy participants. This investigation was designed to better understand the therapeutic potential of social cognition training for individuals with neuropsychiatric disorders. Fifty-five healthy adult participants were randomly assigned to an internet-based intervention during which they either completed social cognition training (SCT) or played control computer games (CON) for 10.5 h over 2–3 weeks. Facial emotion recognition was measured with the Penn ER-40, which was conducted before and after training. The following variables were collected and analyzed: facial emotion recognition accuracy for each emotion (i.e., anger, fear, happy, neutral (no emotional expression), and sad), reaction times for each emotion, and response error types (i.e., frequency of an emotion being chosen incorrectly, frequency of an emotion being missed, and frequency of an emotion being confused for another particular emotion). ANOVAs and t-tests were used to elucidate intervention effects both within and between groups. Results showed that the SCT group improved their accuracy for angry and neutral faces. They also improved their reaction times for neutral, fearful, and sad faces. Compared to the CON group, the SCT group had significantly faster reaction times to neutral faces after training. Lastly, the SCT group decreased their tendency to confuse angry faces for no emotional expression and to confuse no emotional expression for sad faces. In contrast, the CON group did not significantly improve their accuracy or reaction times on any emotional expression, and they did not improve their response error types. We conclude that social cognition training can improve recognition of distinct emotions in healthy participants and decrease response error patterns, suggesting it has the potential to improve impaired emotion recognition and social functioning in individuals with facial emotion recognition deficits.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number1026418
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
StatePublished - 4 Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 Schoeneman Patel, Haut, Guty, Dodell-Feder, Saxena, Nahum and Hooker.


  • Parkinson’s disease
  • cognitive remediation
  • facial emotion recognition (FER)
  • neuronal plasticity (MeSH)
  • schizophrenia
  • social cognition


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