Impaired conscious and preserved unconscious inhibitory processing in recent onset schizophrenia

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Impairments in inhibitory function have been found in studies of cognition in schizophrenia. These have been linked to a failure to adequately maintain the task demands in working memory. As response inhibition is known to occur in both voluntary and involuntary processes, an important question is whether both aspects of response inhibition are specifically impaired in people with schizophrenia.


The subjects were 33 patients presenting with a first episode of psychosis (27 with schizophrenia and six with schizo-affective disorder) and 24 healthy controls. We administered two motor response tasks: voluntary response inhibition was indexed by the stop-signal task and involuntary response inhibition by the masked priming task. We also administered neuropsychological measures of IQ and executive function to explore their associations with response inhibition.


Patients with schizophrenia compared to healthy controls showed significantly increased duration of the voluntary response inhibition process, as indexed by the stop-signal reaction time (SSRT). By contrast, there were no group differences on the pattern of priming on the masked priming task, indicative of intact involuntary response inhibition. Neuropsychological measures revealed that voluntary response inhibition is not necessarily dependent on working memory.


These data provide evidence for a specific impairment of voluntary response inhibition in schizophrenia.

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