Spatial attentional control is not impaired in schizophrenia: Dissociating specific deficits from generalized impairments

Journal of Abnormal Psychology - 2015-05-01Elshaikh AA, Sponheim S, Chafee M, MacDonald III AW10.1037/a0038537
A large literature has established that people with schizophrenia are impaired on tasks that require attentional control. However, evidence is mixed as to whether these impairments are specific deficits (Oltmanns & Neale, 1975) or merely reflect a generalized impairment (Dickinson & Harvey, 2009). Recent evidence also suggests visual attentional control for encoding into working memory may be selectively spared in people with schizophrenia (Gold et al., 2006). The current study used a cued backward masking task to investigate 23 people with schizophrenia and 27 healthy controls. People with schizophrenia were hypothesized to perform better on invalidly cued trials when making a simple identification or location judgment. However, we found schizophrenia impaired performance on both valid and invalid cues to the same degree whether the cue was a stored representation (top-down) or presented at the location of the stimulus (bottom-up). In contrast to a large neuropsychological literature, these findings suggest that people with schizophrenia show no specific spatial attentional control deficit. The errors that they make on such task may be consistent with a generalized impairment.