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Cognitive remediation (CR) is a psychological therapy, which improves cognitive and social functioning in people with schizophrenia. It is now being implemented within routine clinical services and mechanisms of change are being explored. We designed a new generation computerised CR programme, CIRCuiTS (Computerised Interactive Remediation of Cognition – a Training for Schizophrenia), to enhance strategic and metacognitive processing, with an integrated focus on the transfer of cognitive skills to daily living. This large trial tested its feasibility to be delivered in therapist-led and independent sessions, and its efficacy for improved cognitive and social functioning.
A two arm single blind randomised superiority trial comparing CIRCuiTS plus treatment-as-usual (TAU) with TAU alone in 93 people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Cognitive, social functioning and symptom outcomes were assessed at pre- and post-therapy and 3 months later.
85% adhered to CIRCuiTS, completing a median of 28 sessions. There were significant improvements in visual memory at post-treatment (p = 0.009) and follow-up (p = 0.001), and a trend for improvements in executive function at post-treatment (p = 0.056) in favour of the CIRCuiTS group. Community function was also differentially and significantly improved in the CIRCuiTS group at post-treatment (p = 0.003) but not follow-up, and was specifically predicted by improved executive functions.
CIRCuiTS was beneficial for improving memory and social functioning. Improved executive functioning emerges as a consistent predictor of functional gains and should be considered an important CR target to achieve functional change. A larger-scale effectiveness trial of CIRCuiTS is now indicated.
People with psychosis demonstrate impaired response inhibition on the Stop Signal Task (SST). It is less clear if this impairment extends to reflection impulsivity, a form of impulsivity that has been linked to substance use in non-psychotic samples.
We compared 49 patients with first-episode psychosis (FEP) and 30 healthy control participants on two forms of impulsivity measured using the Information Sampling Test (IST) and the SST, along with clinical and IQ assessments. We also compared those patients who used cannabis with those who had either given up or never used.
Patients with FEP had significantly greater impairment in response inhibition but not in reflection impulsivity compared with healthy controls. By contrast, patients who reported current cannabis use demonstrated greater reflection impulsivity than those that had either given up or never used, whereas there were no differences in response inhibition.
These data suggest that abnormal reflection impulsivity is associated with substance use in psychosis but not psychosis itself; the opposite relationship may hold for response inhibition.
Previous studies have shown that patients with schizophrenia are impaired on executive tasks, where positive and negative feedbacks are used to update task rules or switch attention. However, research to date using saccadic tasks has not revealed clear deficits in task switching in these patients. The present study used an oculomotor ‘rule switching’ task to investigate the use of negative feedback when switching between task rules in people with schizophrenia.
A total of 50 patients with first episode schizophrenia and 25 healthy controls performed a task in which the association between a centrally presented visual cue and the direction of a saccade could change from trial to trial. Rule changes were heralded by an unexpected negative feedback, indicating that the cue-response mapping had reversed.
Schizophrenia patients were found to make increased errors following a rule switch, but these were almost entirely the result of executing saccades away from the location at which the negative feedback had been presented on the preceding trial. This impairment in negative feedback processing was independent of IQ.
The results not only confirm the existence of a basic deficit in stimulus–response rule switching in schizophrenia, but also suggest that this arises from aberrant processing of response outcomes, resulting in a failure to appropriately update rules. The findings are discussed in the context of neurological and pharmacological abnormalities in the conditions that may disrupt prediction error signalling in schizophrenia.
Impairments in inhibitory function have been found in studies of cognition in schizophrenia. These have been linked to a failure to adequately maintain the task demands in working memory. As response inhibition is known to occur in both voluntary and involuntary processes, an important question is whether both aspects of response inhibition are specifically impaired in people with schizophrenia.
The subjects were 33 patients presenting with a first episode of psychosis (27 with schizophrenia and six with schizo-affective disorder) and 24 healthy controls. We administered two motor response tasks: voluntary response inhibition was indexed by the stop-signal task and involuntary response inhibition by the masked priming task. We also administered neuropsychological measures of IQ and executive function to explore their associations with response inhibition.
Patients with schizophrenia compared to healthy controls showed significantly increased duration of the voluntary response inhibition process, as indexed by the stop-signal reaction time (SSRT). By contrast, there were no group differences on the pattern of priming on the masked priming task, indicative of intact involuntary response inhibition. Neuropsychological measures revealed that voluntary response inhibition is not necessarily dependent on working memory.
These data provide evidence for a specific impairment of voluntary response inhibition in schizophrenia.
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