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Br J Psychiatry. 2012 Aug;201:124-30. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.111.102053. Epub 2012 Jun 28.

Childhood cognitive function and adult psychopathology: associations with psychotic and non-psychotic symptoms in the general population.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, UK.



Lower cognitive ability in childhood is associated with increased risk of future schizophrenia, but its relationship with adult psychotic-like experiences and other psychopathology is less understood.


To investigate whether this childhood risk factor is shared with adult subclinical psychiatric phenotypes including psychotic-like experiences and general psychiatric morbidity.


A population-based sample of participants born in Great Britain during 1 week in March 1946 was contacted up to 20 times between ages 6 weeks and 53 years. Cognition was assessed at ages 8, 11 and 15 years using a composite of age-appropriate verbal and non-verbal cognitive tests. At age 53 years, psychotic-like experiences were self-reported by 2918 participants using four items from the Psychosis Screening Questionnaire and general psychiatric morbidity was assessed using the scaled version of the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-28).


Psychotic-like experiences were reported by 22% of participants, and were highly comorbid with other psychopathology. Their presence in adults was significantly associated with poorer childhood cognitive test scores at ages 8 and 15 years, and marginally so at age 11 years. In contrast, high GHQ scores were not associated with poorer childhood cognition after adjustment for the presence of psychotic-like experiences.


Psychotic and non-psychotic psychopathologic symptoms are highly comorbid in the general population. Lower childhood cognitive ability is a risk factor for psychotic-like experiences in mid-life; these phenomena may be one end of a continuum of phenotypic expression driven by variation in early neurodevelopment.

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