Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Convergence of biological and psychological perspectives on cognitive coordination in schizophrenia

William A. Phillips a1 and Steven M. Silverstein a2
a1 Department of Psychology, Center for Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, Scotland, United Kingdom
a2 Department of Psychiatry, Psychotic Disorders Division, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York Presbyterian Hospital, White Plains, NY 10605


The concept of locally specialized functions dominates research on higher brain function and its disorders. Locally specialized functions must be complemented by processes that coordinate those functions, however, and impairment of coordinating processes may be central to some psychotic conditions. Evidence for processes that coordinate activity is provided by neurobiological and psychological studies of contextual disambiguation and dynamic grouping. Mechanisms by which this important class of cognitive functions could be achieved include those long-range connections within and between cortical regions that activate synaptic channels via NMDA-receptors, and which control gain through their voltage-dependent mode of operation. An impairment of these mechanisms is central to PCP-psychosis, and the cognitive capabilities that they could provide are impaired in some forms of schizophrenia. We conclude that impaired cognitive coordination due to reduced ion flow through NMDA-channels is involved in schizophrenia, and we suggest that it may also be involved in other disorders. This perspective suggests several ways in which further research could enhance our understanding of cognitive coordination, its neural basis, and its relevance to psychopathology.

Key Words: attention; cerebral cortex; cognitive coordination; cognitive neuropsychiatry; cognitive neuropsychology; context disorganization; Gamma rhythms; Gestalt theory; glutamate; grouping; memory; NMDA-receptors; PCP-psychosis; perceptual organization; schizophrenia.