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Psychol Med. 2000 Mar;30(2):345-57.

Sensitivity to linguistic anomalies in spoken sentences: a case study approach to understanding thought disorder in schizophrenia.

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Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry and King's College School of Medicine and Dentistry, London.



As a group, positively thought-disordered (TD) schizophrenic patients are relatively impaired in their ability to use linguistic context to process sentences online (Kuperberg et al. 1998). This study investigates the heterogeneity in the use of linguistic context both between individual TD patients and within the individual patients as severity of thought disorder changes over time.


Seventeen TD schizophrenics performed an online word-monitoring task on four separate occasions. In each patient, baseline reaction time (RTs) to target words in normal sentences were subtracted from RTs to target words in pragmatically-, semantically- and syntactically-violated sentences to obtain a measure of online sensitivity to each type of linguistic violation, and these were compared with normative data of a healthy volunteer and a non-TD schizophrenic control group. In addition, the co-variation of severity of thought disorder and sensitivity to linguistic context within all individual TD patients over the four testing sessions, was examined.


There was marked heterogeneity between individual TD patients in their sensitivity to different types of linguistic violations: some were selectively insensitive to pragmatic violations, while others were insensitive to semantic and syntactic (subcategorization) violations. There was also an inverse relationship between severity of thought disorder and sensitivity to linguistic violations within individual patients over the four sessions.


It is likely that a single cognitive deficit does not account for all types of schizophrenic thought disorder, but rather that there are multiple deficits affecting specific levels of linguistic processing. In these schizophrenic patients, impairment in the use of linguistic context was related to the state, rather than the trait, of thought disorder.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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