During visuo-spatial cognitive tasks, patients with schizophrenia show a preference for local (detailed) rather than global (holistic) information processing. The efficiency of such information processing is influenced by task difficulty. We tested whether patients' preference for local processing would persist if task demands favored global or local processing. Twenty-four stabilized patients with schizophrenia (SZ) and 25 healthy, matched controls (C) were tested in a mental mirroring task. Task difficulty was manipulated while stimulus surface structures were maintained unchanged. Information processing was assessed by recording eye movements. SZ were slower than C in the easiest condition but they made more errors than C in the more difficult conditions. Further, SZ did not adapt their average fixation duration to task demands resulting in longer fixation duration in the easiest condition and shorter fixation duration in the most difficult condition compared to C. These findings suggest that patients employ local information processing even when it is maladaptive for task demands. That is, patients do not adapt their fixation duration to task demands implicating (i) a preference for scanning local stimuli features and (ii) information processing inflexibility. These features need to be taken into account when evaluating visuo-spatial cognitive performance in schizophrenia.
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