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Biol Psychiatry. 2006 Mar 1;59(5):446-51. Epub 2005 Sep 1.

Forward and backward visual masking in unaffected siblings of schizophrenic patients.

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Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles, USA.



Visual masking tasks assess the earliest stages of visual processing. This study examined visual masking performance for forward and backward masking tasks in siblings of schizophrenic patients and healthy comparison subjects.


A staircase method was used to ensure that unmasked target identification was equivalent across subjects to eliminate differences due to discrimination of simple perceptual inputs. Four computerized visual masking tasks were administered to 43 siblings of patients and 42 normal comparison subjects. The tasks included: 1) locating a target; 2) identifying a target with a high-energy mask; 3) identifying a target with a low-energy mask; and 4) a paracontrast/metacontrast procedure with nonoverlapping target and mask.


Across masking conditions, there was a significant group by forward/backward interaction, meaning that siblings showed a larger difference from control subjects in backward versus forward masking. This group difference was more pronounced in the location condition.


These results support the theory that visual masking procedures may be indicators of vulnerability to schizophrenia. The pattern of findings in this report (larger group differences on backward versus forward masking and on the location condition) suggests that the activity of transient visual channels may be particularly linked to vulnerability.

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