Semantic bias, homograph comprehension, and event-related potentials in schizophrenia

Salisbury DF, Shenton ME, Nestor PG, McCarley RW

Clin Neurophysiol 2002 Mar;113(3):383-95

PMID: 11897539


OBJECTIVES: It is controversial whether a semantic processing bias for strong associates is present in schizophrenia, and unknown whether the language abnormalities observed in schizophrenia can be attributed to dysfunctions early or late in cognitive processing. Combined behavioral and event-related potential (ERP) data can indicate the nature and timing of such abnormalities.

METHODS: Sensibility judgements of dominant and subordinate homograph sentences were measured in 12 schizophrenia patients and 13 normal controls. ERPs were recorded to the disambiguating sentence-ending word.

RESULTS: All subjects showed greatest misinterpretation of subordinate homograph sentences, but schizophrenia patients particularly misinterpreted these sentence types. For control subjects, subordinate homograph sentences that were classified as nonsensical showed greater N400 than those classified as sensible. By contrast, the N400 of patients was large, regardless of the sensibility judgement–patients’ brains initially responded to all subordinate sentences as if nonsensical. These data are consonant with a semantic bias. However, the patients’ N400 to dominant homograph sentence endings was also larger than that of controls, a finding not consonant with a semantic bias.

CONCLUSIONS: The behavioral results indicate a selective comprehension abnormality in schizophrenia dependent on the content of verbal memory. The ERP results suggest a pervasive contextual memory failure. A semantic activation decay model is proposed to explain these results.