Visual Encoding Impairment in Patients With Schizophrenia: Contribution of Reduced Working Memory Span, Decreased Processing Speed, and Affective Symptoms

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Previous research has revealed the contribution of decreased processing speed and reduced working memory span in verbal and visual memory impairment in patients with schizophrenia. The role of affective symptoms in verbal memory has also emerged in a few studies. The authors designed a picture recognition task to investigate the impact of these factors on visual encoding.


Two types of pictures (black and white vs. colored) were presented under 2 different conditions of context encoding (either displayed at a specific location or in association with another visual stimulus). It was assumed that the process of encoding associated pictures was more effortful than that of encoding pictures that were presented alone. Working memory span and processing speed were assessed.


In the patient group, working memory span was significantly associated with the recognition of the associated pictures but not significantly with that of the other pictures. Controlling for processing speed eliminated the patients’ deficit in the recognition of the colored pictures and greatly reduced their deficit in the recognition of the black-and-white pictures. The recognition of the black-and-white pictures was inversely related to anxiety in men and to depression in women.


Working memory span constrains the effortful visual encoding processes in patients, whereas processing speed decrement accounts for most of their visual encoding deficit. Affective symptoms also have an impact on visual encoding, albeit differently in men and women.

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