Background: Finger-tapping has been widely studied using behavioral and neuroimaging paradigms. Evidence supports the use of finger-tapping as an endophenotype in schizophrenia, but its relationship with motor procedural learning remains unexplored. To our knowledge, this study presents the first use of index finger-tapping to study procedural learning in individuals with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder (SCZ/SZA) as compared to healthy controls.
Methods: A computerized index finger-tapping test was administered to 1169 SCZ/SZA patients (62% male, 88% right-handed), and 689 healthy controls (40% male, 93% right-handed). Number of taps per trial and learning slopes across trials for the dominant and non-dominant hands were examined for motor speed and procedural learning, respectively.
Results: Both healthy controls and SCZ/SZA patients demonstrated procedural learning for their dominant hand but not for their non-dominant hand. In addition, patients showed a greater capacity for procedural learning even though they demonstrated more variability in procedural learning compared to healthy controls. Left-handers of both groups performed better than right-handers and had less variability in mean number of taps between non-dominant and dominant hands. Males also had less variability in mean tap count between dominant and non-dominant hands than females. As expected, patients had a lower mean number of taps than healthy controls, males outperformed females and dominant-hand trials had more mean taps than non-dominant hand trials in both groups.
Conclusions: The index finger-tapping test can measure both motor speed and procedural learning, and motor procedural learning may be intact in SCZ/SZA patients.
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