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Schizophr Bull. 2009 Jan;35(1):222-32. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbm150. Epub 2008 Jan 22.

Attention shaping: a reward-based learning method to enhance skills training outcomes in schizophrenia.

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  • 1University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Piscataway, NJ, USA.


Disturbances in sustained attention commonly interfere with the ability of persons with schizophrenia to benefit from evidence-based psychosocial treatments. Cognitive remediation interventions have thus far demonstrated minimal effects on attention, as have medications. There is thus a gap between the existence of effective psychosocial treatments and patients' ability to effectively engage in and benefit from them. We report on the results of a multisite study of attention shaping (AS), a behavioral intervention for improving attentiveness and learning of social skills among highly distractible schizophrenia patients. Patients with chronic schizophrenia who were refractory to skills training were assigned to receive either the UCLA Basic Conversation Skills Module (BCSM) augmented with AS (n = 47) or in the standard format (n = 35). AS, a reward-based learning procedure, was employed to facilitate patients' meeting clearly defined and individualized attentiveness and participation goals during each session of a social skills training group. Primary outcome measures were observational ratings of attentiveness in each session and pre- and post-BCSM ratings of social skill and symptoms. Patients receiving social skills training augmented with AS demonstrated significantly more attentiveness in group sessions and higher levels of skill acquisition; moreover, significant relationships were found between changes in attentiveness and amount of skills acquired. Changes in attentiveness were unrelated to level or change in antipsychotic medication dose. AS is an effective example of supported cognition, in that cognitive abilities are improved within the environmental context where the patient is experiencing difficulty, leading to gains in both attention and functional outcome.

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