The effects of perceptual encoding on the magnitude of object working memory impairment in schizophrenia

Coleman MJ, Krastoshevsky O, Tu X, Mendell NR, Levy DL

Schizophr. Res. 2012 Aug;139(1-3):60-5

PMID: 22640637


Deficits in the visual working memory (WM) system have been consistently reported in schizophrenia patients, but the relative contribution of initial perceptual encoding to these deficits remains unsettled. We assessed the role of visual perceptual encoding on performance on an object WM task. Schizophrenia patients (N=37) and nonpsychiatric control subjects (N=33) were tested on an object WM task involving three delay periods: 200 ms, 3s, and 10s. Schizophrenia patients performed significantly less accurately than controls on all three conditions. However, after controlling for the effect of perceptual encoding (accuracy on the 200 ms delay condition) on performance in the two memory load conditions, schizophrenia patients demonstrated intact WM in the 3s delay condition, and showed a weak trend for decreased accuracy on the 10s delay compared with controls. Analysis of individual differences in pattern of performance revealed that a distinct subgroup of poor encoder patients had a significantly greater reduction in accuracy at 3s than the other patient subgroups and controls. In contrast, among schizophrenia patients who performed poorly on the 10s delay, accuracy was equivalently reduced independent of encoding ability. WM deficits in controls were independent of encoding ability at both delay intervals. These results indicate that encoding ability titrates the magnitude of WM impairment in schizophrenia patients but not in controls, and that heterogeneity has to be taken into account to correctly estimate the effects of perceptual encoding on visual object WM deficits in schizophrenia.