Reading in Schizophrenic Subjects and Their Nonsymptomatic First-Degree Relatives

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Previous studies have demonstrated eye movement abnormalities during smooth pursuit and antisaccadic tasks in schizophrenia. However, eye movements have not been investigated during reading. The purpose of this study was to determine whether schizophrenic subjects and their nonsymptomatic first-degree relatives show eye movement abnormalities during reading. Reading rate, number of saccades per line, amplitudes of saccades, percentage regressions (reverse saccades), and fixation durations were measured using an eye tracker (EyeLink, SensoMotoric Instruments, Germany) in 38 schizophrenic volunteers, 14 nonaffected first-degree relatives, and 57 control volunteers matched for age and National Adult Reading Test scores. Parameters were examined when volunteers read full pages of text and text was limited to progressively smaller viewing areas around the point of fixation using a gaze-contingent window. Schizophrenic volunteers showed significantly slower reading rates (P = .004), increase in total number of saccades (P ≤ .001), and a decrease in saccadic amplitude (P = .025) while reading. Relatives showed a significant increase in total number of saccades (P = .013) and decrease in saccadic amplitude (P = .020). Limitation of parafoveal information by reducing the amount of visible characters did not change the reading rate of schizophrenics but controls showed a significant decrease in reading rate with reduced parafoveal information (P < .001). Eye movement abnormalities during reading of schizophrenic volunteers and their first-degree relatives suggest that visual integration of foveal and parafoveal information may be reduced in schizophrenia. Reading abnormalities in relatives suggest a genetic influence in reading ability in schizophrenia and rule out confounding effects of medication.

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