Background. The ability to encode time cues underlies many cognitive processes. In the light of schizophrenic patients' compromised cognitive abilities in a variety of domains, it is noteworthy that there are numerous reports of these patients displaying impaired timing abilities. However, the timing intervals that patients have been evaluated on in prior studies vary considerably in magnitude (e.g. 1 s, 1 min, 1 h etc.).
Method. In order to obviate differences in abilities in chronometric counting and place minimal demands on cognitive processing, we chose tasks that involve making judgements about brief durations of time (<1 s).
Results. On a temporal generalization task, patients were less accurate than controls at recognizing a standard duration. The performance of patients was also significantly different from controls on a temporal bisection task, in which participants categorized durations as short or long. Although time estimation may be closely intertwined with working memory, patients' working memory as measured by the digit span task did not correlate significantly with their performance on the duration judgement tasks. Moreover, lowered intelligence scores could not completely account for the findings.
Conclusions. We take these results to suggest that patients with schizophrenia are less accurate at estimating brief time periods. These deficits may reflect dysfunction of biopsychological timing processes.