The Beneficial Influence of Inattention on Visual Interference in Schizophrenia

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Objective: Schizophrenia is associated with poor spatial attention. However, although this deficit undermines the perception of target information, it may be helpful for ignoring irrelevant inputs. The present study examined whether event-related brain potential (ERP) indices of visual spatial attention predicted the magnitude of the brain response to interference in schizophrenia. Method: ERPs were recorded in 16 schizophrenia patients and 20 healthy control participants who had to indicate whether the target E was global or local in compound letter stimuli. The nontarget could be either highly similar to the target (i.e., a global E composed of local Ss and vice versa) and thus produce more interference, or it could be dissimilar (i.e., a global E composed of local Hs and vice versa) and generate less interference. Results: Both groups’ responses were slowed by interference. Voltage amplitudes of the P1, and of ERP interference effects from 300–500 ms after stimulus onset, were significantly smaller in schizophrenia patients than in healthy participants when the target was global. In patients, larger P1 amplitudes were correlated with larger interference effects and with more severe symptoms of attentional deficits and conceptual disorganization. Schizophrenia participants thus exhibited abnormal ERPs to interference despite normal behavioral performance. Conclusions: Schizophrenia patients likely pay less attention to stimuli in general; however, the impact of this impairment on target detection is compensated by relatively greater inattention to irrelevant components of the stimuli, and this explains why they are not more influenced by interference than healthy participants at the behavioral level.

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