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People with schizophrenia show enhanced cognitive costs of maintaining a single item in working memory

  • James M. Gold (a1), Sonia Bansal (a1), John M. Gaspar (a2), Shuo Chen (a1), Benjamin M. Robinson (a1), Britta Hahn (a1) and Steven J. Luck (a2)...



Working memory (WM) deficits are seen as a core deficit in schizophrenia, implicated in the broad cognitive impairment seen in the illness. Here we examine the impact of WM storage of a single item on the operation of other cognitive systems.


We studied 37 healthy controls (HCS) and 43 people with schizophrenia (PSZ). Each trial consisted of a sequence of two potential target stimuli, T1 and T2. T1 was a letter presented for 100 ms. After delays of 100–800 ms, T2 was presented. T2 was a 1 or a 2 and required a speeded response. In one condition, subjects were instructed to ignore T1 but respond to T2. In another condition, they were required to report T1 after making their speeded response to T2 (i.e. to make a speeded T2 response while holding T1 in WM).


PSZ were dramatically slowed at responding to T2 when T1 was held in WM. A repeated measures ANOVA yielded main effects of group, delay, and condition with a group by condition interaction (p's < 0.001). Across delays, the slowing of the T2 response when required to hold T1 in memory, relative to ignoring T1, was nearly 3 times higher in PSZ than HCS (633 v. 219 ms).


Whereas previous studies have focused on reduced storage capacity, the present study found that PSZ are impaired at performing tasks while they are successfully maintaining a single item in WM. This may play a role in the broad cognitive impairment seen in PSZ.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: James M. Gold, E-mail:


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