Comparison of set-shifting ability in patients with chronic schizophrenia and frontal lobe damage

Schizophr Res. 1999 Jun 22;37(3):251-70. doi: 10.1016/s0920-9964(98)00156-x.


Neuropsychological studies of patients with schizophrenia have consistently identified deficits on tests sensitive to frontal lobe function. One paradigm that has been widely used is that of attentional set-shifting using the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST). In the present study, patients with chronic schizophrenia and with frontal lobe lesions were assessed on a computerised set-shifting task that provides a componential analysis of the WCST by distinguishing between intra-dimensional and extra-dimensional set-shifting. Out of 51 patients with schizophrenia, those with high IQ (n =24) were compared with patients with lesions in prefrontal cortex (n = 22) and with normal control subjects (n= 18). These three groups were well matched for age, sex and National Adult Reading Test (NART) IQ. The schizophrenic group showed a significantly higher rate of attrition at the intra-dimensional shift stage of learning compared with the other two groups. At the extra-dimensional shift stage, both the schizophrenic and frontal lesioned groups showed greater attrition than controls. Further, patients with schizophrenia who were able to learn the intradimensional reversal stage required more trials and made significantly more errors at that stage than the other two groups. In comparison with high IQ patients with schizophrenia, those with low IQ performed at a lower level but showed a qualitatively similar pattern of performance, providing further evidence that the set-shifting deficits were not simply explained by any global intellectual decline. Patients with schizophrenia who dropped out at the extradimensional shift stage had higher negative symptom scores compared with patients dropping out at previous learning stages, while patients failing at the intra-dimensional shift stage had lower scores for bradyphrenia (slowness of thought). The results suggest that patients with chronic schizophrenia fail to 'learn set' and are impaired at both set-shifting and concept formation. The relevance of these findings to understanding the nature of prefrontal cortical deficits in chronic schizophrenia is discussed. The implication of these findings to the rehabilitation of these patients is considered.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Diseases / complications*
  • Brain Diseases / diagnosis
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Concept Formation / physiology
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prefrontal Cortex / pathology
  • Schizophrenia / complications*
  • Schizophrenia / diagnosis
  • Schizophrenic Psychology
  • Severity of Illness Index