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Psychol Med. 2018 Dec;48(16):2776-2785. doi: 10.1017/S0033291718000442. Epub 2018 Mar 4.

What accounts for poor functioning in people with schizophrenia: a re-evaluation of the contributions of neurocognitive v. attitudinal and motivational factors.

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Department of Psychiatry,University of Pennsylvania,Philadelphia,Pennsylvania,USA.
Center for Assessment Research and Translation,University of Delaware,Newark,Delaware,USA.
Department of Psychiatry,Rutgers - Robert Wood Johnson Medical School,Piscataway Township,New Jersey,USA.



Neurocognitive deficits are often seen as core features of schizophrenia, and as primary determinants of poor functioning. Yet, our clinical observations suggest that individuals who score within the impaired range on standardized tests can reliably perform better in complex real-world situations, especially when performance is embedded within a positive socio-affective context.


We analyzed literature on the influence of non-neurocognitive factors on test performance in order to clarify their contributions.


We identified seven non-neurocognitive factors that significantly contribute to neurocognitive test performance: avolition, dysfunctional attitudes, effort, stress, negative emotions, asociality, and disorganized symptoms. We then proposed an alternative model based on dysfunctional (e.g. defeatist) attitudes and their consequences for motivation and sustained task engagement. We demonstrated that these factors account for substantial variance in negative symptoms, neurocognitive test performance, and functional outcomes. We then demonstrated that recovery-oriented cognitive therapy - which is derived from this alternative model and primarily targets dysfunctional beliefs - has been successful in the treatment of low functioning individuals with schizophrenia.


The contributions of neurocognitive impairments to poor real-world functioning in people with schizophrenia may be overstated in the literature, and may even be limited relative to non-neurocognitive factors. We offer suggestions for further research to more precisely quantify the contributions of attitudinal/motivation v. neurocognitive factors in schizophrenia.

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