Motivation deficits are common in schizophrenia, but little is known about underlying mechanisms, or the specific goals that people with schizophrenia set in daily life. Using neurobiological heuristics of pleasure anticipation and effort assessment, we examined the quality of activities and goals of 47 people with and 41 people without schizophrenia, utilizing ecological momentary assessment. Participants were provided cell phones and called 4 times a day for 7 days, and were asked about their current activities and anticipation of upcoming goals. Activities and goals were later coded by independent raters on pleasure and effort. In line with recent laboratory findings on effort computation deficits in schizophrenia, relative to healthy participants, people with schizophrenia reported engaging in less effortful activities and setting less effortful goals, which were related to patient functioning. In addition, patients showed some inaccuracy in estimating how difficult an effortful goal would be, which in turn was associated with lower neurocognition. In contrast to previous research, people with schizophrenia engaged in activities and set goals that were more pleasure-based, and anticipated goals as being more pleasurable than controls. Thus, this study provided evidence for difficulty with effortful behavior and not anticipation of pleasure. These findings may have psychosocial treatment implications, focusing on effort assessment or effort expenditure. For example, to help people with schizophrenia engage in more meaningful goal pursuits, treatment providers may leverage low-effort pleasurable goals by helping patients to break down larger, more complex goals into smaller, lower-effort steps that are associated with specific pleasurable rewards.
- Experience sampling method
- Goal directed behavior