Schizophrenia patients demonstrate impairment on visual backward masking, a measure of early visual processing. Most visual masking paradigms involve two distinct processes, an early fast-acting component associated with object formation and a later component that acts through object substitution. So far, masking paradigms used in schizophrenia research have been unable to separate these two processes.
We administered three visual processing paradigms (location masking with forward and backward masking, four-dot backward masking and a cuing task) to 136 patients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder and 79 healthy controls. A psychophysical procedure was used to match subjects on identification of an unmasked target prior to location masking. Location masking interrupts object formation, four-dot masking task works through masking by object substitution and the cuing task measures iconic decay.
Patients showed impairment on location masking after being matched for input threshold, similar to previous reports. After correcting for age, patients showed lower performance on four-dot masking than controls, but the groups did not differ on the cuing task.
Patients with schizophrenia showed lower performance when masking was specific to object substitution. The difference in object substitution masking was not due to a difference in rate of iconic decay, which was comparable in the two groups. These results suggest that, despite normal iconic decay rates, individuals with schizophrenia show impairment in a paradigm of masking by object substitution that did not also involve disruption of object formation.
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