Encoding and maintenance of information in working memory, followed by internal manipulation of that information for planning adaptive behavior, are two key components of working-memory systems. Both processes have been reported to be impaired in schizophrenia, but few studies have directly compared the relative severity of these abnormalities, or the degree to which manipulation deficits might be secondary to alterations in maintenance processes.
Clinically stable schizophrenia patients (n=25) and a demographically similar healthy comparison group (n=24) were administered a verbal span task with three levels of working-memory load. Maintenance was assessed using sequential position questions. Manipulation processes were assessed by requiring comparison of the relative sequential position of test items, which entailed simultaneous serial search strategies regarding item order.
Both groups showed reduced accuracy and increased reaction time for manipulation compared with maintenance processing. There were significant patient impairments across working-memory loads. There was no differential deficit in manipulation processing, and effect sizes of relative deficit in the patient group were higher for maintenance than manipulation processing.
The strong correlation for maintenance and manipulation deficits suggest that impairments in the ability to internally manipulate information stored in working-memory systems are not greater than alterations in the encoding and maintaining of information in working memory and that disturbances in maintenance processing may contribute to deficits in higher-order working-memory operations.
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