Altered Spatial Profile of Distraction in People With Schizophrenia

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Attention is critical for effective processing of incoming information and has long been identified as a potential area of dysfunction in people with schizophrenia (PSZ). In the realm of visual processing, both spatial attention and feature-based attention are involved in biasing selection toward task-relevant stimuli and avoiding distraction. Evidence from multiple paradigms has suggested that PSZ may hyperfocus and have a narrower “spotlight” of spatial attention. In contrast, feature-based attention seems largely preserved, with some suggestion of increased processing of stimuli sharing the target-defining feature. In the current study, we examined the spatial profile of feature-based distraction using a task in which participants searched for a particular color target and attempted to ignore distractors that varied in distance from the target location and either matched or mismatched the target color. PSZ differed from healthy controls in terms of interference from peripheral distractors that shared the target-color presented 200 ms before a central target. Specifically, PSZ showed an amplified gradient of spatial attention, with increased distraction to near distractors and less interference to far distractors. Moreover, consistent with hyperfocusing, individual differences in this spatial profile were correlated with positive symptoms, such that those with greater positive symptoms showed less distraction by target-colored distractors near the task-relevant location.

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