Inductive reasoning and the understanding of intention in schizophrenia

Cogn Neuropsychiatry. 2003 Aug;8(3):223-35. doi: 10.1080/13546800244000319.


Background: The study explored the relationship between the understanding of intention in veiled speech acts and the ability to reason inductively.

Methods: A total of 39 people with DSM-IV-defined schizophrenia with no behavioural signs and 44 healthy participants performed the Hinting Task, a measure of pragmatic language in which the speaker's intention must be inferred, and a measure of inductive reasoning (Aha! Sentences) in which the meaning of ambiguous nonsocial sentences had to be inferred. The participants also completed measures of general intellectual ability, immediate memory for narrative and social problem-solving ability.

Results: A substantial correlation was found between performance on the inductive reasoning task and the Hinting Task in the sample of people with schizophrenia. The same relationship was not seen in the normal control sample. The robust relationship between these two measures in this sample survived when the roles of immediate memory for narrative and intellectual ability were controlled for. Furthermore, the relationship was distinctly more compelling for the patients who were currently ill compared to those in remission.

Conclusion: These data suggest that people with schizophrenia use a different strategy to infer the meaning behind pragmatic language than that used by normally functioning adults. It is suggested that a reliance on different, possibly less specialised, skills in this group to perform this simple social inference task underlies their deficient performance on this and other measures of social inference. The fact that the relationship between the tasks in patients in remission is not as robust implies that the use of specialised skills to perform social inference tasks may be compromised most significantly during acute phases.