Patients with schizophrenia show deficits in skill learning. We tested the hypothesis that impaired skill learning is associated with liability for schizophrenia by determining if it is present in non-affected siblings of patients. This study examined cognitive skill learning in adolescent siblings of patients with childhood onset schizophrenia (COS), who are at high genetic risk for the disorder, and age-matched controls. A probabilistic classification task was used to assess cognitive skill learning, which has been shown to be impaired in patients with striatal dysfunction or schizophrenia. Differences between the groups emerged within the first 50 trials of training: the controls showed significant learning while the COS siblings did not. Furthermore, after extended training over 800 additional trials the siblings of COS probands reached a lower level of asymptotic performance than controls. These results suggest that a behavioral impairment in probabilistic classification learning in healthy, unaffected siblings mirrors the deficits seen in patients and thus may reflect genetic liability for the disease.
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