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Schizophr Res. 2008 Feb;99(1-3):200-7. Epub 2007 Aug 10.

How to find the way out from four rooms? The learning of "chaining" associations may shed light on the neuropsychology of the deficit syndrome of schizophrenia.

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Semmelweis University, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Budapest, H1083, Balassa u. 6., Hungary.


Recent meta-analytic evidence suggests that clinical neuropsychological methods are not likely to uncover circumscribed cognitive impairments in the deficit syndrome of schizophrenia. To overcome this issue, we adapted a cognitive neuroscience perspective and used a new "chaining" habit learning task. Participants were requested to navigate a cartoon character through a sequence of 4 rooms by learning to choose the open door from 3 colored doors in each room. The aim of the game was to learn the full sequence of rooms until the character reached the outside. In the training phase, each stimulus leading to reward (open door in each room) was trained via feedback until the complete sequence was learned. In the probe phase, the context of rewarded stimuli was manipulated: in a given room, in addition to the correct door of that room, there also appeared a door which was open in another room. Whereas the training phase is dominantly related to basal ganglia circuits, the context-dependent probe phase requires intact medial-temporal lobe functioning. Results revealed that deficit and non-deficit patients were similarly impaired on the probe phase compared with controls. However, the training phase was only compromised in deficit patients. More severe negative symptoms were associated with more errors on the training phase. Executive functions were unrelated to performance on the "chaining" task. These results indicate that the deficit syndrome is associated with prominently impaired stimulus-response reinforcement learning, which may indicate abnormal functioning of basal ganglia circuits.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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