Enhanced vulnerability to distraction does not account for working memory capacity reduction in people with schizophrenia

Molly Erickson, Britta Hahn, Carly Leonard, Benjamin Robinson, Steven Luck, James Gold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Although working memory impairment has been well-documented among people with schizophrenia (PSZ), the underlying mechanism of this impairment remains unknown. The present study was conducted in a large sample of PSZ and healthy control subjects (HCS) to test the hypothesis that one putative mechanism - vulnerability to distraction from task-irrelevant stimuli - (1) can account for working memory impairment among PSZ, and (2) is associated with other neurocognitive and clinical variables that are highly predictive of functional outcome in schizophrenia. Participants (127 PSZ and 124 HCS) completed a visual change detection task in which a distractor stimulus (mask) was presented on half of the trials during the delay period between sample and test array. PSZ lost proportionately more information from working memory than did HCS, but this effect was small (Cohen's d = 0.36-0.38), and large differences between groups in working memory capacity remained when differences in distractibility were factored out. Furthermore, vulnerability to distraction was not strongly associated with any clinical or cognitive variables of interest. These results suggest that, although PSZ may be somewhat more susceptible to distraction than HCS, this impairment is unlikely to be a significant factor accounting for the robust capacity deficits observed in this population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-154
Number of pages6
JournalSchizophrenia Research: Cognition
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


  • Distractibility
  • Schizophrenia
  • Visual cognition
  • Working memory

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