Background: There is evidence of a link between schizophrenia and a deficit of working memory, but this has been derived from tasks not specifically developed to probe working memory per se. Our aim was to investigate whether working memory deficits may be detected across different paradigms using the self-ordered pointing task (SOPT) and the visual conditional associative learning task (VCALT) in patients with schizophrenia spectrum disorders and healthy controls. The current literature suggests deficits in schizophrenia spectrum disorder patients versus healthy controls but these studies frequently involved small samples, broad diagnostic criteria, inclusion of patients on antipsychotic medications, and were not controlled for symptom domains, severity of the disorder, etc. To overcome some of these limitations, we investigated the self-monitoring and conditional associative learning abilities of a numerically representative sample of healthy controls and a group of non-deteriorated, drug-free patients hospitalized for a schizophrenia spectrum disorder with florid, mainly positive psychotic symptoms. Methods: Eighty-five patients with a schizophrenia spectrum disorder (DSM-IV-TR diagnosis of schizophrenia (n = 71) or schizophreniform disorder (n = 14)) and 80 healthy controls entered the study. The clinical picture was dominated by positive symptoms. The healthy control group had a negative personal and family history of schizophrenia or mood disorder and satisfied all the inclusion and exclusion criteria other than variables related to schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Results: Compared to controls, patients had worse performances on SOPT, VCALT and higher SOPT/VCALT ratios, not affected by demographic or clinical variables. ROC curves showed that SOPT, VCALT, and SOPT/VCALT ratio had good accuracy in discriminating patients from controls. The SOPT and VCALT scores were inter-correlated in controls but not in patients. Conclusion: The selection of a clinically homogeneous group of patients, controlled for a number of potential confounding factors, and the high level of significance found in the different analyses confirm the presence of SOPT and VCALT abnormalities in a large preponderance of patients with schizophrenia spectrum disorder with positive symptoms. SOPT, VCALT, and SOPT/VCALT ratio showed good accuracy in discriminating patients from healthy controls. These conclusions cannot be extended to schizophrenia spectrum disorder patients with a different clinical profile from our patient population.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health