Pro-social Priming

Could positive, pro-social priming be an easily implemented psychosocial tool to improve treatment outcomes? Are our models of schizophrenia as an illness (and subsequent negative implicit priming) causing negative outcomes?

Social priming enhances interpersonal synchronization and feeling of connectedness towards schizophrenia patients

What leads healthy individuals to abnormal feelings of contact with schizophrenia patients remains obscure. Despite recent findings that human bonding is an interactive process influenced by coordination dynamics, the spatiotemporal organization of the bodily movements of schizophrenia patients when interacting with other people is poorly understood. Interpersonal motor coordination between dyads of patients (n = 45) or healthy controls (n = 45), and synchronization partners (n = 90), was assessed with a hand-held pendulum task following implicit exposure to pro-social, non-social, or anti-social primes. We evaluated the socio-motor competence and the feeling of connectedness between participants and their synchronization partners with a measure of motor coordination stability. Immediately after the coordination task, all participants were also asked to rate the likeableness of their interacting partner. Our results showed greater stability during interpersonal synchrony in schizophrenia patients who received pro-social priming, inducing in their synchronization partner greater feelings of connectedness towards patients. This greater feeling of connectedness was positively correlated with stronger motor synchronization between participants suggesting that motor coordination partly underlies patients’ social interactions and feelings of contact with others. Pro-social priming can have a pervasive effect on abnormal social interactions in schizophrenia patients.

“The main reason for the use of an implicit priming is the fact that most of synchronization in everyday life (i.e. mimicry) occurs spontaneously, and without the acting person’s conscious awareness. Thus, and importantly, implicit priming does not necessarily require any motivational processes or deliberate decision that have been shown impaired in schizophrenia patients. Hence, we investigated whether social priming might influence voluntary socio-motor coordination of schizophrenia patients. Expecting that social priming affects social exchanges, we hypothesized better performances in interpersonal motor coordination for pro-socially primed schizophrenia participants than for non-socially or anti-socially primed participants. Additionally, social sciences studies demonstrated that the motor system influences our cognition and that our cognition affects our bodily actions, encapsulating this mutual influence under the term of embodiment. We expected an embodied effect of the social priming, that is, a link between a greater motor coordination and an increased feeling of connectedness between participants.”

“The Pro-social set included words such as “friend” or “team”; the Non-social set included words such as “plate” or “tree”; and the Anti-social set included words such as “selfish” or “alone”. Each priming session was performed in two randomly presented parts. In both parts, five scrambled words written with random colors were presented on a screen. Only one sentence could be written using four of these words (e.g. “wooden is friend she my” yields “she is my friend” for a pro-social sentence), the fifth word was named the intruder (e.g. “wooden”). Once the words were presented on the screen, participants had to mentally reconstruct the right sentence and then to push the “space” keyboard. Once the key pressed, a black screen appeared and the participants had to say the answer to the experimenter. In the first part, participants had to say the full four-word sentence, without the intruder. In that case, the “primed” word (pro-social, non-social or anti-social depending on the condition) was part of the sentence they repeated. In the second part, participants had to tell the experimenter the intruder word. In that case, the intruder corresponded to the “primed” word. Each of these priming tasks contained 12 sentences for each priming group. Each sentence was presented to the participants in a random order. Once the priming session ended, synchronization partners joined their corresponding participant for the interpersonal coordination task.”

“…our results indicated that the social priming affected the way primed schizophrenia patients, but not primed age-matched healthy controls, were judged by their synchronization partners. More specifically, synchronization partners reported a better connectedness feeling towards pro-socially primed schizophrenia patients than non-socially or anti-socially primed schizophrenia patients. Moreover, pro-social priming gets schizophrenia patients as “likable” than age-matched healthy controls, whereas it was not the case for the two other primed schizophrenia groups which also exhibited a less stable motor coordination.”

“These findings have important treatment significance. To our knowledge, no study has attempted to prime a feeling of social affiliation in order to promote social behaviors, such as interpersonal coordination, in schizophrenia. While several studies have shown that nonverbal behavior during social interaction were significantly impaired in schizophrenia expressive behaviors and were linked with an important reduction of social competences and social functioning, the original finding of our study is that pro-social priming leads to a better feeling of connectedness in the healthy partner interacting with an individual with schizophrenia.”

The study “provides evidence for how priming effect and interactional synchrony should be considered as an important additional tool and target respectively, for psychosocial treatment for schizophrenia.”
Are we unintentionally priming people with schizophrenia a model of ‘illness’ and ‘social difference’ that subsequently leads to negative treatment outcomes? Could pro-social priming be an effective countermeasure?

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