Use of eye movement monitoring to examine item and relational memory in schizophrenia

Deborah E. Hannula, Charan Ranganath, Ian S. Ramsay, Marjorie Solomon, Jong Yoon, Tara A. Niendam, Cameron S. Carter, John D. Ragland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Background: Patients with schizophrenia may be impaired at remembering interitem and item-context relationships (relational memory), even when memory for items is intact. Here, we applied the novel approach of using eye movements to assess integrity of item and relational memory in schizophrenia. This method does not rely on introspection and may be more readily translated to animal models than traditional behavioral methods. Methods: Sixteen healthy control subjects and 16 patients were administered a scene memory task while eye movements were monitored. During testing, participants indicated whether the scenes were unchanged, contained a new item (item manipulation), had a change in item location (relational manipulation), or were new. It was predicted that memory would be disproportionately impaired when relational changes were made. Results: Results confirmed that tasks were equally difficult and showed that patients were impaired identifying all scene types. These behavioral impairments were associated with more severe disorganization and negative symptoms. Eye movement results were more specific. Both groups looked disproportionately at critical regions of repeated versus novel scenesan effect of scene repetition. However, in contrast with predictions, patients showed equivalent eye-movement-based memory impairment whether changes were relational or item-based. Conclusions: This is the first experiment to demonstrate that eye movements can be used to investigate item and relational memory in schizophrenia. The eye movement procedure was well tolerated and was more specific than behavioral measures with respect to memory impairment. Results suggest that eye movements may be of use in clinical trials and translational studies employing animal models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)610-616
Number of pages7
JournalBiological psychiatry
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
DEH was supported by National Institute of Mental Health fellowship F32MH075513 and JDR was supported by National Institute of Mental Health R01MH084895 .


  • Associative memory
  • episodic memory
  • eye tracking
  • item memory
  • relational memory
  • schizophrenia


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