Visual spatial processing and working memory load as a function of negative and positive psychotic-like experiences

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Introduction: Patients with schizophrenia show impairments in working memory and visual spatial processing, but little is known about the dynamic interplay between the two. To provide insight into this important question, we examined the effect of positive and negative symptom expressions in healthy adults on perceptual processing while concurrently performing a working memory task that requires the allocations of various degrees of cognitive resources.

Methods: The effect of positive and negative symptom expressions in healthy adults (N=91) on perceptual processing was examined in a dual-task paradigm of visual spatial working memory (VSWM) under three conditions of cognitive load: a baseline condition (with no concurrent working memory demand), a low and a high VSWM load conditions.

Results: Participants overall performed more efficiently (i.e., faster) with increasing cognitive load. This facilitation in performance was unrelated to symptom expressions. However, participants with high negative, low positive symptom expressions were less accurate in the low VSWM condition compared to the baseline and the high VSWM load conditions.

Conclusions: Attenuated, subclinical expressions of psychosis affect cognitive performance that is impaired in schizophrenia. The “resource limitations hypothesis” may explain the performance of the participants with high
negative symptom expressions. The dual-task of visual spatial processing and working memory may be beneficial to assessing the cognitive phenotype of individuals with high risk for schizophrenia spectrum disorders.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)402-411
JournalCognitive Neuropsychiatry
Issue number5
Early online date20 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2016


  • processing load, psychosis, schizophrenia, visual spatial processing, working memory