External cues improve visual working memory encoding in the presence of salient distractors in schizophrenia

Catherine V Barnes-Scheufler, Lara Rösler, Michael Schaum, Carmen Schiweck, Benjamin Peters, Jutta S Mayer, Andreas Reif, Michael Wibral, Robert A Bittner

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

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BACKGROUND: People with schizophrenia (PSZ) are impaired in attentional prioritization of non-salient but relevant stimuli over salient distractors during visual working memory (VWM) encoding. Conversely, guidance of top-down attention by external predictive cues is intact. Yet, it is unknown whether this preserved ability can help PSZ encode more information in the presence of salient distractors.

METHODS: We employed a visuospatial change-detection task using four Gabor patches with differing orientations in 66 PSZ and 74 healthy controls (HCS). Two Gabor patches flickered which were designated either as targets or distractors and either a predictive or a non-predictive cue was displayed to manipulate top-down attention, resulting in four conditions.

RESULTS: We observed significant effects of group, salience and cue as well as significant interactions of salience by cue, group by salience and group by cue. Across all conditions, PSZ stored significantly less information in VWM than HCS. PSZ stored significantly less non-flickering than flickering information with a non-predictive cue. However, PSZ stored significantly more flickering and non-flickering information with a predictive cue.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings indicate that control of attentional selection is impaired in schizophrenia. We demonstrate that additional top-down information significantly improves performance in PSZ. The observed deficit in attentional control suggests a disturbance of GABAergic inhibition in early visual areas. Moreover, our findings are indicative of a mechanism for enhancing attentional control in PSZ, which could be utilized by pro-cognitive interventions. Thus, the current paradigm is suitable to reveal both preserved and compromised cognitive component processes in schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Medicine
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 04 Mar 2024


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