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Auditory Vigilance and Working Memory in Youth at Familial Risk for Schizophrenia or Affective Psychosis in the Harvard Adolescent Family High Risk Study

  • Larry J. Seidman (a1) (a2), Andrea Pousada-Casal (a1) (a3), Silvia Scala (a1) (a4), Eric C. Meyer (a5) (a6) (a7), William S. Stone (a1), Heidi W. Thermenos (a1) (a2), Elena Molokotos (a1), Jessica Agnew-Blais (a8), Ming T. Tsuang (a1) (a9) and Stephen V. Faraone (a10)...


Background: The degree of overlap between schizophrenia (SCZ) and affective psychosis (AFF) has been a recurring question since Kraepelin’s subdivision of the major psychoses. Studying nonpsychotic relatives allows a comparison of disorder-associated phenotypes, without potential confounds that can obscure distinctive features of the disorder. Because attention and working memory have been proposed as potential endophenotypes for SCZ and AFF, we compared these cognitive features in individuals at familial high-risk (FHR) for the disorders. Methods: Young, unmedicated, first-degree relatives (ages, 13–25 years) at FHR-SCZ (n=41) and FHR-AFF (n=24) and community controls (CCs, n=54) were tested using attention and working memory versions of the Auditory Continuous Performance Test. To determine if schizotypal traits or current psychopathology accounted for cognitive deficits, we evaluated psychosis proneness using three Chapman Scales, Revised Physical Anhedonia, Perceptual Aberration, and Magical Ideation, and assessed psychopathology using the Hopkins Symptom Checklist -90 Revised. Results: Compared to controls, the FHR-AFF sample was significantly impaired in auditory vigilance, while the FHR-SCZ sample was significantly worse in working memory. Both FHR groups showed significantly higher levels of physical anhedonia and some psychopathological dimensions than controls. Adjusting for physical anhedonia, phobic anxiety, depression, psychoticism, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms eliminated the FHR-AFF vigilance effects but not the working memory deficits in FHR-SCZ. Conclusions: The working memory deficit in FHR-SZ was the more robust of the cognitive impairments after accounting for psychopathological confounds and is supported as an endophenotype. Examination of larger samples of people at familial risk for different psychoses remains necessary to confirm these findings and to clarify the role of vigilance in FHR-AFF. (JINS, 2016, 22, 1026–1037)


Corresponding author

Correspondence and reprint requests to: Larry J. Seidman, Massachusetts Mental Health Center, Commonwealth Research Center, 5th Floor, 75 Fenwood Road, Boston, MA 02115. E-mail:


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