OBJECTIVES: The emotional Stroop effect is defined as increased reaction times to emotional stimuli compared to neutral ones. It has been often reported in the literature, on both behavioral and neurophysiological level. The goal of this study was to investigate the frontal brain activation in individuals at risk for schizophrenic psychosis and bipolar disorder during an emotional Stroop task. We expected to observe decreased activation in the at-risk individuals compared to the healthy controls.
METHODS: Individuals at high risk for psychosis (HR), at ultra-high risk for psychosis (UHR), at risk for bipolar disorder (BIP) and healthy controls (HC) performed an emotional Stroop task, which included positively, negatively and neutrally valenced words. Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) was used to measure levels of oxygenated hemoglobin (O2Hb) representing brain activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal and frontotemporal cortex.
RESULTS: Results showed significantly decreased levels of O2Hb in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) in the HR and UHR groups compared to the HC, indicating lower activity. Even though the decrease was independent from the valence of the words, it was the most visible for the negative ones. Moreover, significantly lower O2Hb levels in the frontotemporal cortex (FTC) were observed in all at risk groups compared to the HC.
CONCLUSIONS: Lower activity in the FTC in groups at risk for psychosis and bipolar disorder reflects unspecific dysfunctions. Decreased activity in the DLPFC in the HR and UHR groups indicates that hypofrontality can be found already in individuals at risk for schizophrenic psychosis.