Psychological Medicine

Impaired distractor inhibition in patients with schizophrenia on a negative priming task

G. M. MACQUEEN a1c1, T. GALWAY a1, J. O. GOLDBERG a1 and S. P. TIPPER a1
a1 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences and Hamilton Program for Schizophrenia, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; and Department of Psychology, University of Wales, Bangor, Gwynedd


Background. Numerous studies have suggested, via the interpretation of negative priming effects, that subjects with schizophrenia are less able than controls to inhibit irrelevant distracting information. Further issues concerning impairment in inhibitory processes are investigated here. First, recent research has revealed that negative priming (NP) effects can be caused by different processes, distractor inhibition or perceptual review. Therefore, conclusions concerning reduced inhibition in patients with schizophrenia are not possible from previous NP research. Secondly, previous NP studies have required subjects to identify some feature of the target. This is the first study to examine NP that uses a spatial task in patients with schizophrenia.

Method. Twenty-eight subjects with schizophrenia and 28 age and sex matched non-psychiatric control subjects completed a computerized NP task that eliminated the possible contribution of perceptual review.

Results. Subjects with schizophrenia had reduced levels of NP compared to control subjects on this spatial NP task (t=2·46, P<0·02). Current age, positive, negative or total PANNS scores did not correlate with negative priming scores, but post hoc analyses revealed that clozapine-treated patients had significantly greater levels of negative priming than patients receiving typical antipsychotic medications.

Conclusions. The present experiment eliminated the contribution of perceptual review to negative priming and demonstrated that when a pure measure of inhibition is taken on a localization task, patients with schizophrenia were less able to inhibit irrelevant distracting stimuli. The fact that NP was reduced in a spatial task suggested a more diffuse reduction in inhibition than previous studies that examined only identification-based responses.

c1 Address for correspondence: Dr Glenda M. MacQueen, 4N77A, McMaster University Medical Centre, 1200 Main Street W., Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, L8N 3Z5.