You read my mind: fMRI markers of threatening appraisals in people with persistent psychotic experiences

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Anomalous perceptual experiences are relatively common in the general population. Evidence indicates that the key to distinguishing individuals with persistent psychotic experiences (PEs) with a need for care from those without is how they appraise their anomalous experiences. Here, we aimed to characterise the neural circuits underlying threatening and non-threatening appraisals in people with and without a need for care for PEs, respectively. A total of 48 participants, consisting of patients with psychosis spectrum disorder (clinical group, n = 16), non-need-for-care participants with PEs (non-clinical group, n = 16), and no-PE healthy control participants (n = 16), underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while completing the Telepath task, designed to induce an anomalous perceptual experience. Appraisals of the anomalous perceptual experiences were examined, as well as functional brain responses during this window, for significant group differences. We also examined whether activation co-varied with the subjective threat appraisals reported in-task by participants. The clinical group reported elevated subjective threat appraisals compared to both the non-clinical and no-PE control groups, with no differences between the two non-clinical groups. This pattern of results was accompanied by reduced activation in the superior and inferior frontal gyri in the clinical group as compared to the non-clinical and control groups. Precuneus activation scaled with threat appraisals reported in-task. Resilience in the context of persistent anomalous experiences may be explained by intact functioning of fronto-parietal regions, and may correspond to the ability to contextualise and flexibly evaluate psychotic experiences.

Original languageEnglish
Article number49
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


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