Impaired Working Memory for Visual Motion Direction in Schizophrenia: Absence of Recency Effects and Association With Psychopathology

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Objective: Working memory (WM) impairments are a prominent neurocognitive symptom in schizophrenia (SZ) and include deficits in memory for serial order and abnormalities in serial position effects (i.e., primacy and recency effects). Former studies predominantly focused on investigating these deficiitsts applying verbal or static visual stimuli, but little is known about WM processes that involve dynamic visual movements. We examined WM for visual motion directions, its susceptibility to distraction and the effect of serial positioning. Method: Twenty-three patients with paranoid SZ and 23 healthy control subjects (HC) took part in the study. We conducted an adapted Sternberg-type recognition paradigm: three random dot kinematograms (RDKs) that depicted coherent visual motion were used as stimuli and a distractor stimulus was incorporated into the task. Results: SZ patients performed significantly worse in the WM visual motion task, when a distractor stimulus was presented. While HC showed a recency effect for later RDKs, the effect was absent in SZ patients. WM deficits were associated with more severe psychopathological symptoms, poor visual and verbal learning, and a longer duration of illness. Furthermore, SZ patients showed impairments in several other neurocognitive domains. Conclusions: Findings suggest that early WM processing of visual motion is susceptible to interruption and that WM impairments are associated with clinical symptoms in SZ. The absence of a recency effect is discussed in respect of 3 theoretical approaches—impaired WM for serial order information, abnormalities in early visual representations (i.e., masking effects), and deficits in later visual processing (i.e., attentional blink effect).

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