Previous studies have suggested links between clinical symptoms and theory of mind (ToM) impairments in schizophrenia spectrum disorders (SSD), but it remains unclear whether some symptoms are more strongly linked to ToM than others.
A meta-analysis (Prospero; CRD42021259723) was conducted to quantify and compare the strength of the associations between ToM and the clinical symptoms of SSD (Positive, Negative, Cognitive/Disorganization, Depression/Anxiety, Excitability/Hostility). Studies (N = 130, 137 samples) including people with SSD and reporting a correlation between clinical symptoms and ToM were retrieved from Pubmed, PsycNet, Embase, Cochrane Library, Science Direct, Proquest, WorldCat, and Open Gray. Correlations for each dimension and each symptom were entered into a random-effect model using a Fisher’s r-to-z transformation and were compared using focused-tests. Publication bias was assessed with the Rosenthal failsafe and by inspecting the funnel plot and the standardized residual histogram.
The Cognitive/Disorganization (Zr = 0.28) and Negative (Zr = 0.24) dimensions revealed a small to moderate association with ToM, which was significantly stronger than the other dimensions. Within the Cognitive/Disorganization dimension, Difficulty in abstract thinking (Zr = 0.36) and Conceptual disorganization (Zr = 0.39) showed the strongest associations with ToM. The association with the Positive dimension (Zr = 0.16) was small and significantly stronger than the relationship with Depression/Anxiety (Zr = 0.09). Stronger associations were observed between ToM and clinical symptoms in younger patients, those with an earlier age at onset of illness and for tasks assessing a combination of different mental states.
The relationships between Cognitive/Disorganization, Negative symptoms, and ToM should be considered in treating individuals with SSD.