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The current conceptualization of negative symptoms in schizophrenia

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Negative symptoms have long been conceptualized as a core aspect of schizophrenia. They play a key role in the functional outcome of the disorder, and their management represents a significant unmet need. Improvements in definition, characterization, assessment instruments and experimental models are needed in order to foster research aimed at developing effective interventions. A consensus has recently been reached on the following aspects: a) five constructs should be considered as negative symptoms, i.e. blunted affect, alogia, anhedonia, asociality and avolition; b) for each construct, symptoms due to identifiable factors, such as medication effects, psychotic symptoms or depression, should be distinguished from those regarded as primary; c) the five constructs cluster in two factors, one including blunted affect and alogia and the other consisting of anhedonia, avolition and asociality. In this paper, for each construct, we report the current definition; highlight differences among the main assessment instruments; illustrate quantitative measures, if available, and their relationship with the evaluations based on rating scales; and describe correlates as well as experimental models. We conclude that: a) the assessment of the negative symptom dimension has recently improved, but even current expert consensus-based instruments diverge on several aspects; b) the use of objective measures might contribute to overcome uncertainties about the reliability of rating scales, but these measures require further investigation and validation; c) the boundaries with other illness components, in particular neurocognition and social cognition, are not well defined; and d) without further reducing the heterogeneity within the negative symptom dimension, attempts to develop successful interventions are likely to lead to great efforts paid back by small rewards.

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