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Semantic priming in schizophrenia: Systematic review and meta-analysis

  • E. Pomarol-Clotet (a1), T. M. S. S. Oh (a2), K. R. Laws (a3) and P. J. McKenna (a4)
Abstract
Background

Increased semantic priming is an influential theory of thought disorder in schizophrenia. However, studies to date have had conflicting findings.

Aims

To investigate semantic memory in patients with schizophrenia with and without thought disorder.

Method

Data were pooled from 36 studies comparing patients with schizophrenia and normal controls in semantic priming tasks. Data from 18 studies comparing patients with thought disorder with normal controls, and 13 studies comparing patients with and without thought disorder were also pooled.

Results

There was no support for altered semantic priming in schizophrenia as a whole. Increased semantic priming in patients with thought disorder was supported, but this was significant only in comparison with normal controls and not in comparison with patients without thought disorder. Stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) and general slowing of reaction time moderated the effect size for priming in patients with thought disorder.

Conclusions

Meta-analysis provides qualified support for increased semantic priming as a psychological abnormality underlying thought disorder. However, the possibility that the effect is an artefact of general slowing of reaction time in schizophrenia has not been excluded.

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Corresponding author
Professor P. J. McKenna, Department of Psychological Medicine, Trust HQ Building, 1055 Great Western Road, Glasgow G12 0XH, UK. Email: peter.mckenna@virgin.net
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Semantic priming in schizophrenia: Systematic review and meta-analysis

  • E. Pomarol-Clotet (a1), T. M. S. S. Oh (a2), K. R. Laws (a3) and P. J. McKenna (a4)
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eLetters

Semantic hyperpriming in schizophrenia. An artefact of general slowing of reaction time?

Laurent Lecardeur, Ph.D., psychologist, postdoctoral trainee
09 April 2008

Semantic hyperpriming in schizophrenia. An artefact of general slowing of reaction time?

Impairment of memory is one of the principal cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia. We read with interest the article by Pomarol-Clotet et al (1)who reported on a relevant meta-analysis in which they evaluated the results of studies on semantic priming (SP) in schizophrenia. The SP is a component of long term implicit memory. They argued that hyperpriming (HP)(i.e. greater semantic priming in patients than healthy controls) could bean artefact of a general slowing in schizophrenia. As a consequence, theseauthors aimed to consider general slowing as a moderator variable in theirstatistical analysis. The measure of general slowing that they choose, corresponded to the difference in response time between controls and patients, when prime and target are unrelated. In our opinion, this measure is not the most suitable to account for, rather it reflects other cognitive processes. Subjects need to inhibit the prime so as to be able to process the target, since prime and target do not share any semantic relationship. Consequently, response time in an unrelated condition could be rather the expression of an accurate inhibitory process, than of a general slowing as proposed by the authors. Some arguments support this view.First, we evaluated slowing in a simple reaction task in two different studies (2;3). Values were included as covariates in the analyses of covariance of priming effects. Despite confirming general slowing, there was evidence of significant increased priming in schizophrenic patients compared to controls. Consequently, HP can be demonstrated even if generalslowing is taken into account and controlled.Second, we demonstrated that the time required to inhibit an unrelated prime was significantly enhanced in schizophrenic patients compared to healthy controls. General slowing was also controlled. Consequently, we demonstrated that the increased priming effect in patients compared to controls was mainly induced by increased time required to inhibit unrelated prime. Our results support the impairment of inhibitory process of semantically unrelated information in schizophrenic patients.In their meta-analysis, Pomarol-Clotet et al suggested that “the greater the slowing the greater the amount of priming”. Given our results, an alternative explanation has to be considered. We suggest that HP of schizophrenic patients could reflect decreased abilities to inhibit irrelevant information, such as semantically unrelated information.

Reference List

(1) Pomarol-Clotet E, Oh TM, Laws KR, McKenna PJ. Semantic priming in schizophrenia: systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Psychiatry 2008 Feb;192(2):92-7.

(2) Lecardeur L, Giffard B, Laisney M, Brazo P, Delamillieure P, Eustache F, et al. Semantic hyperpriming in schizophrenic patients: Increased facilitation or impaired inhibition in semantic association processing? Schizophr Res 2007 Jan;89(1-3):243-50.

(3) Lecardeur L, Brazo P, Dollfus S, Giffard B, Laisney M, Eustache F, et al. Does hyperpriming reveal impaired spreading of activation in schizophrenia? Schizophr Res 2007 Dec;97(1-3):289-91.

Corresponding author:

Laurent LecardeurCentre de Recherche Fernand-SeguinMontréal (Québec) H1N 3V2, CanadaTelephone: 0 514 251 4015Fax: 0 514 251 2617

Other authors:

Sonia DollfusCentre Esquirol, CHU de CaenCentre d’Imagerie – Neurosciences et d’Application aux PathologieS – UMR 623214074 Caen, France

Emmanuel StipCentre de Recherche Fernand-SeguinHôpital Louis-H. LafontaineMontréal (Québec) H1N 3V2, Canada

Declaration of interest: None
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Conflict of interest: None Declared

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