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Most original studies and all meta-analyses conducted to date converge on the conclusion that patients with schizophrenia display rather generalized neurocognitive deficits. For the present study, we reopen this seemingly closed chapter and examine whether important influences, such as lack of motivation and negative attitudes towards cognitive assessment, result in poorer secondary neuropsychological performance.
A sample of 50 patients with an established diagnosis of schizophrenia were tested for routine neurocognitive assessment and compared to 60 nonclinical volunteers. Before and after the assessment, subjective momentary influences were examined (e.g. motivation, concerns about assessment, fear about poor outcome) for their impact on performance using a new questionnaire called the Momentary Influences, Attitudes and Motivation Impact (MIAMI) on Cognitive Performance Scale.
As expected, patients performed significantly worse than controls on all neurocognitive domains tested (large effect size, on average). However, patients also displayed more subjective momentary impairment, as well as more fears about the outcome and less motivation than controls. Mediation analyses indicated that these influences contributed to (secondary) poorer neurocognitive performance. Differences in neurocognitive scores shrank to a medium effect size, on average, when MIAMI scores were accounted for.
The data argue that performance on measures of neurocognition in schizophrenia are to a considerable extent due to secondary factors. Poor motivation, fears and momentary impairments distinguished patients from controls and these variables heavily impacted performance. Before concluding that neurocognitive deficits in psychiatric patients are present, clinicians should take these confounding influences into account. Although patients with schizophrenia achieved, on average, worse test scores than controls, a large subgroup displayed spared performance.
Resilience is the capacity of individuals to resist mental disorders despite exposure to stress. Little is known about its neural underpinnings. The putative variation of white-matter microstructure with resilience in adolescence, a critical period for brain maturation and onset of high-prevalence mental disorders, has not been assessed by diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). Lower fractional anisotropy (FA) though, has been reported in the corpus callosum (CC), the brain's largest white-matter structure, in psychiatric and stress-related conditions. We hypothesized that higher FA in the CC would characterize stress-resilient adolescents.
Three groups of adolescents recruited from the community were compared: resilient with low risk of mental disorder despite high exposure to lifetime stress (n = 55), at-risk of mental disorder exposed to the same level of stress (n = 68), and controls (n = 123). Personality was assessed by the NEO-Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI). Voxelwise statistics of DTI values in CC were obtained using tract-based spatial statistics. Regional projections were identified by probabilistic tractography.
Higher FA values were detected in the anterior CC of resilient compared to both non-resilient and control adolescents. FA values varied according to resilience capacity. Seed regional changes in anterior CC projected onto anterior cingulate and frontal cortex. Neuroticism and three other NEO-FFI factor scores differentiated non-resilient participants from the other two groups.
High FA was detected in resilient adolescents in an anterior CC region projecting to frontal areas subserving cognitive resources. Psychiatric risk was associated with personality characteristics. Resilience in adolescence may be related to white-matter microstructure.
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