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Set shifting and reversal learning in patients with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia

  • J. McKirdy (a1), J. E. D. Sussmann (a1), J. Hall (a1), S. M. Lawrie (a1), E. C. Johnstone (a1) and A. M. McIntosh (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 24 December 2008

Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia have both been associated with deficits in extra-dimensional set shifting (EDS). Deficits in reversal learning (RL) have also been shown in schizophrenia but not in bipolar disorder. This study sought to assess the specificity of these findings in a direct comparison of clinically stable patients with each disorder.


The intra-dimensional/extra-dimensional (IDED) set-shifting task, part of the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB), was administered to 30 patients with schizophrenia, 47 with bipolar disorder and a group of 44 unaffected controls. EDS and RL errors were compared between the groups and related to measures of current and past psychiatric symptoms and medication.


Both groups of patients with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder made more EDS and RL errors than controls. Neither measure separated the two disorders, even when the analysis was restricted to euthymic patients. No relationship was found with prescribed medication.


Patients with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia show common deficits in EDS and RL. These deficits do not seem to be attributable to current symptoms and are consistent with disrupted networks involving the ventral prefrontal cortex.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Dr A. M. McIntosh, Division of Psychiatry, University of Edinburgh, Kennedy Tower, Royal Edinburgh Hospital, EdinburghEH10 5HF, UK. (Email:
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