Objective: Basic temporal dysfunctions have been described in patients with schizophrenia, which may impact their ability to connect and synchronize with the outer world. The present study was conducted with the aim to distinguish between interval timing and synchronization difficulties and more generally the spatial-temporal organization disturbances for voluntary actions. A new sensorimotor synchronization task was developed to test these abilities. Method: Twenty-four chronic schizophrenia patients matched with 27 controls performed a spatial-tapping task in which finger taps were to be produced in synchrony with a regular metronome to six visual targets presented around a virtual circle on a tactile screen. Isochronous (time intervals of 500 ms) and non-isochronous auditory sequences (alternated time intervals of 300/600 ms) were presented. The capacity to produce time intervals accurately versus the ability to synchronize own actions (tap) with external events (tone) were measured. Results: Patients with schizophrenia were able to produce the tapping patterns of both isochronous and non-isochronous auditory sequences as accurately as controls producing inter-response intervals close to the expected interval of 500 and 900 ms, respectively. However, the synchronization performances revealed significantly more positive asynchrony means (but similar variances) in the patient group than in the control group for both types of auditory sequences. Conclusion: The patterns of results suggest that patients with schizophrenia are able to perceive and produce both simple and complex sequences of time intervals but are impaired in the ability to synchronize their actions with external events. These findings suggest a specific deficit in predictive timing, which may be at the core of early symptoms previously described in schizophrenia.
Keywords: predictive timing; schizophrenia; sensorimotor synchronization; tapping; timing and time perception.