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Neuropsychologia. 2011 Feb;49(3):435-43. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.12.016. Epub 2010 Dec 16.

Visuo-perceptual organization and working memory in patients with schizophrenia.

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INSERM U666, Centre Hospitalier Régional de Strasbourg, Department of Psychiatry I, Hôpital Civil, 1, place de l'Hôpital, F-67091 Strasbourg Cedex, France.


We explore the mechanisms sub-tending the re-organization and memorization of visual information by studying how these mechanisms fail in patients with schizophrenia. Several studies have suggested that patients have difficulties in organizing information in perception and memory. We explore to what extent prompting patients to group items influences memory performance. We distinguish automatic grouping from top-down grouping processes, which are especially involved in re-organizing information. The main task was to memorize pairs of figures. Following manipulation of proximity, pairs of figures were part of the same perceptual group (within-group pair, formed on the basis of automatic grouping) or belonged to different groups (between-group pairs, re-grouped through top-down processes). Prior to the memory task, subjects ran a perception task prompting them to prioritize either within-group or between-group pairs. Unlike patients, controls globally benefited from grouping by proximity in the memory task. In addition, the results showed that prioritizing between-group pairs had a deleterious effect in patients, but with a large decrement in memory performance in the case of within-group rather than between-group figures. This occurred despite preserved focalization on within-group figures, as shown by eye-movement recordings. The suggestion is that when patients are prompted to re-group separate items, they can do so, but the benefit derived from automatic grouping is then not only lost but also reversed. This suggests re-organizing visual information not only involves re-grouping separate items but also integrating these new groups in a unified representation, which is impaired in patients with schizophrenia.

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