Objectives: In schizophrenia, stereotypy is observed, a symptom characterized by repetitive, functionless motor behaviour. Whereas cognitive dysfunctioning is known to remain stable throughout the illness, less is known about the course of the motor symptoms. The Zeigeversuch [Mittenecker, E., 1953. Perseveration und Persönlichkeit: 1. Teil: experimentelle Untersuchungen. Z. Exp. Angew. Psychol. 1, 5-31], which entails the generation of a random sequence of button presses, was claimed to capture stereotypy. We used a newly designed computerized version of the Zeigeversuch, the Stereotypy Test Apparatus (STA) to evaluate the evolution of STA performance through the course of the illness.
Methods: To assess stereotyped and perseverative behaviour, 58 schizophrenic inpatients and 48 healthy controls performed the STA and the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST), respectively, as well as several other traditional neuropsychological tests and the Symbol Digit Substitution Test (SDST) on a writing digitizer.
Results: The STA correlated only weakly with the WCST and SDST measures but not with the cognitive or motor slowing on the SDST, nor with the other cognitive measures. Stereotyped and perseverative idiosyncrasies both seem to increase in the course of the illness, in contrast with other cognitive dysfunctions. However, whereas perseveration is already present in the early stages of the illness, stereotyped behaviour only manifests itself in the later stages of schizophrenia. Failure of cognitive inhibition may result in an activation of prepotent stereotyped responses captured by the STA.