Increased distractor vulnerability but preserved vigilance in patients with schizophrenia: evidence from a translational Sustained Attention Task

Schizophr Res. 2013 Mar;144(1-3):136-41. doi: 10.1016/j.schres.2013.01.003. Epub 2013 Jan 29.


Objective: Attentional deficits represent a core cognitive impairment in schizophrenia. The distractor condition Sustained Attention Task (dSAT) has been identified by the Cognitive Neuroscience Treatment to Improve Cognition in Schizophrenia (CNTRICS) initiative as a promising translational task for assessing schizophrenia-related deficits in attentional selection-control, identifying neuroimaging biomarkers of such deficits, and for preclinical animal research on potential pro-cognitive treatments. Here, we examined whether patients would show specific difficulties in selection-control and in avoiding distraction in the dSAT.

Method: Selection-control deficits are measured by comparing attentional performance in the Sustained Attention Task (SAT) without distraction to performance on the task when distraction is present (dSAT). The baseline SAT condition can also be used to assess time-on-task or vigilance effects. Patients with schizophrenia, age- and gender-matched healthy controls and, as an additional control, school-aged children were tested on both the SAT and dSAT.

Results: Compared to healthy controls, patients had reduced performance overall and were differentially vulnerable to distraction. In contrast, patients but not children had preserved vigilance over time.

Conclusion: These results demonstrate specific input-selection control impairments in schizophrenia and suggest that patients' distraction-related impairments can be distinguished from general performance impairments and from deficits in other attentional processes (e.g., sustaining attention) evident in other groups.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology*
  • Translational Medical Research / methods