Impaired retrieval processes evident during visual working memory in schizophrenia

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Prominent working memory (WM) deficits have been observed in people with schizophrenia (PSZ) across multiple sensory modalities, including the visuospatial realm. Electrophysiological abnormalities noted during early visual processing as well as later cognitive functions in PSZ may underlie deficiencies in WM ability, though the mechanisms linking behavior to neural responses are not well understood. WM dysfunction has also been observed in biological relatives of PSZ (REL) and therefore may be a manifestation of genetic liability for the disorder. We administered a delayed response visuospatial WM task to 23 PSZ, 30 of their REL, and 37 healthy controls (CTRL) to better understand the contributions of neural abnormalities to WM performance deficits associated with schizophrenia. PSZ performed more poorly on the WM task and failed to effectively process distractor stimuli as well as CTRL and REL. N1 electrophysiological responses to probes during retrieval differentiated the type and locations of stimuli presented during encoding in CTRL. Retrieval N1 responses in PSZ, however, failed to do so, while retrieval responses in REL showed more pronounced differentiation of stimulus features during encoding. Furthermore, neural responses during retrieval predicted behavioral performance in PSZ and REL, but not CTRL. These results suggest that retrieval processes are particularly important to efficient visuospatial WM function in PSZ and REL, and support further investigation of WM retrieval as a potential target for improving overall WM function through clinical intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-55
Number of pages9
JournalSchizophrenia Research: Cognition
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


  • Endophenotype
  • Event-related potential
  • Relatives
  • Schizophrenia
  • Working memory

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