Background: The underlying nature of negative symptoms in psychosis is poorly understood. Investigation of the relationship between the different negative subsymptoms and neurocognition is one approach to understand more of the underlying nature. Apathy, one of the subsymptoms, is also a common symptom in other brain disorders. Its association with neurocognition, in particular executive functioning, is well documented in other brain disorders, but only studied in one former study of chronic patients with schizophrenia. This study investigates the association between apathy and neurocognitive functioning in patients with first episode psychosis (FEP), with the hypothesis that apathy is more associated with tests representing executive function than tests representing other neurocognitive domains.
Methods: Seventy-one FEP patients were assessed with an extensive neuropsychological test battery. Level of apathy was assessed with the abridged Apathy Evaluation Scale (AES-C-Apathy).
Results: AES-C-Apathy was only significantly associated with tests from the executive domain [Semantic fluency (r = .37, p < .01), Phonetic fluency (r = .25, p < .05)] and working memory [Letter Number Span (r = .26; p =< .05)]; the first two representing the initiation part of executive function. Confounding variables such as co-occuring depression, positive symptoms or use of antipsychotic medication did not significantly influence the results.
Conclusion: We replicated in FEP patients the relationship between apathy and executive functioning reported in another study for chronic patients with schizophrenia. We also found apathy in FEP to have the same relationship to executive functioning, as assessed with the Verbal fluency tests, as that reported in patients with other brain disorders, pointing to a common underlying nature of this symptom across disorders.