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Schizophr Bull. 2013 May;39(3):575-82. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbr192. Epub 2012 Jan 20.

Attention to irrelevant cues is related to positive symptoms in schizophrenia.

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  • 1School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, New South Wales 2052, Australia.


Many modern learning theories assume that the amount of attention to a cue depends on how well that cue predicted important events in the past. Schizophrenia is associated with deficits in attention and recent theories of psychosis have argued that positive symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations are related to a failure of selective attention. However, evidence demonstrating that attention to irrelevant cues is related to positive symptoms in schizophrenia is lacking. We used a novel method of measuring attention to nonpredictive (and thus irrelevant) cues in a causal learning test (Le Pelley ME, McLaren IP. Learned associability and associative change in human causal learning. Q J Exp Psychol B. 2003;56:68-79) to assess whether healthy adults and people with schizophrenia discriminate previously predictive and nonpredictive cues. In a series of experiments with independent samples, we demonstrated: (1) when people with schizophrenia who had severe positive symptoms successfully distinguished between predictive and nonpredictive cues during training, they failed to discriminate between predictive and nonpredictive cues relative to healthy adults during subsequent testing and (2) learning about nonpredictive cues was correlated with more severe positive symptoms scores in schizophrenia. These results suggest that positive symptoms of schizophrenia are related to increased attention to nonpredictive cues during causal learning. This deficit in selective attention results in learning irrelevant causal associations and may be the basis of positive symptoms in schizophrenia.

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