Seeing the World Dimly: The Impact of Early Visual Deficits on Visual Experience in Schizophrenia

Schizophr Bull. 2009 Nov;35(6):1085-94. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbp100. Epub 2009 Sep 30.


Deficits in early visual processing are well documented in schizophrenia, using methods such as contrast sensitivity. Higher, integrative stages of functioning, such as susceptibility to visual illusions, have been evaluated less extensively. For example, patients show increased susceptibility to (ie, are more easily affected by) the Muller-Lyer illusion but decreased susceptibility (ie, are less easily affected by) to stereopsis based upon binocular disparity. The basis for pattern of illusion response and interaction between sensory and integrative stages of processing, however, is unclear. We tested a group of 38 patients and 28 control subjects in contrast sensitivity, the Muller-Lyer and Poggendorff illusions, as well as a subgroup in stereopsis and the Ponzo illusion, Sander parallelogram, and Hermann grid illusions. We predicted that patients would be more susceptible to tests that become more apparent with increased contrast (Muller-Lyer illusion), less susceptible to tests that become less apparent with increased contrast (stereopsis, Ponzo illusion, Hermann grid), and equally susceptible to contrast-insensitive tests (Poggendorff illusion). Additionally, the Hermann grid was tested at varying levels of contrast. Patients demonstrated significant deficits in contrast sensitivity, especially to brief, low spatial frequency stimuli, and the predicted differential response to the tested illusions. Additionally, poor performance on stereopsis and the Hermann grid significantly correlated with decreased contrast sensitivity (all P's <.01). Muller-Lyer illusion and stereopsis performance were also inversely related (P < .01). This study replicates and expands upon previous findings with visual illusions. Our results offer a unifying explanation for disparate studies and suggest that deficits in early sensory gain affect subsequent integrative processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Contrast Sensitivity*
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Depth Perception
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Optical Illusions*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Perceptual Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Perceptual Disorders / psychology
  • Schizophrenia / diagnosis*
  • Schizophrenic Psychology*
  • Vision Disparity