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Relationship of behavioural and symptomatic syndromes in schizophrenia to spatial working memory and attentional set-shifting ability

  • C. PANTELIS (a1), C. A. HARVEY (a1), G. PLANT (a1), E. FOSSEY (a1), P. MARUFF (a1), G. W. STUART (a1), W. J. BREWER (a1), H. E. NELSON (a1), T. W. ROBBINS (a1) and T. R. E. BARNES (a1)...


Background. Behavioural syndromes (thought disturbance, social withdrawal, depressed behaviour and antisocial behaviour) offer a different perspective from that of symptomatic syndromes on the disability that may be associated with schizophrenia. Few studies have assessed their relationship with neuropsychological deficits. We hypothesized that these syndromes may represent behavioural manifestations of frontal-subcortical impairments, previously described in schizophrenia.

Method. Long-stay inpatients (n=54) and community patients (n=43) with enduring schizophrenia were assessed, using measures of symptoms and behaviour and tests of executive functioning. The relationship between syndromes and neuropsychological function was assessed using multiple regression and logistic regression analyses.

Results. Significant associations were found between performance on the spatial working memory task and the psychomotor poverty symptomatic syndrome, and between attentional set-shifting ability and both disorganization symptoms and the thought disturbance behavioural syndrome. These results were not explained by the effect of premorbid IQ, geographical location, length of illness or antipsychotic medication. Length of illness was an independent predictor of attentional set-shifting ability but not of working memory performance.

Conclusion. The specific relationship between negative symptoms and spatial working memory is consistent with involvement of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The associations between difficulty with set-shifting ability and both disorganization symptoms and behaviours may reflect inability to generalize a rule that had been learned and impaired ability to respond flexibly. The specific relationship of illness duration to set-shifting ability may suggest progressive impairment on some executive tasks. The nature of these relationships and their neurobiological and rehabilitation implications are considered.


Corresponding author

A/Professor Christos Pantelis, Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre, Sunshine Hospital, P.O. Box 294, St. Albans, Vic. 3021, Australia. (Email:


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