Timing disturbances have being proposed as a key component of schizophrenia pathogenesis. However, the contribution of cognitive impairment to such disorders has not been clarified. Here, we investigated duration estimation and predictive timing in 30 patients with DSM-5 diagnosis of schizophrenia (SZ) compared to 30 healthy controls (HC). Duration estimation was examined in a temporal and colour discrimination task, fully controlled for working memory (WM) and attention requirements, and by more traditional temporal production and temporal bisection tasks. Predictive timing was measured in a temporal and spatial orienting of attention task. Expectations about stimulus onset (temporal condition) or location (spatial condition) were induced by valid and invalid symbolic cues. Results showed that discrimination of temporal and colour stimulus attributes was equally impaired in SZ. This, taken with the positive correlation between temporal bisection performance and neuropsychological measures of WM, indicates that duration estimation impairments in SZ are underpinned by WM dysfunction. Conversely, we found dissociation in temporal and spatial predictive ability in SZ. Unlike controls, patients were selectively unperturbed by events appearing at an unexpected moment in time, though were perturbed by targets appearing at an unexpected location. Moreover, patients were able to generate temporal expectations more implicitly, as their performance was influenced by the predictive nature of the flow of time itself. Our findings shed new light on the debate over the specificity of timing distortions in SZ, providing evidence that predictive timing is a precise marker of SZ, more sensitive than duration estimation, serving as a valid heuristic for studying the pathophysiology of the disorder.
Keywords: Comorbid cognitive deficits; Duration estimation; Predictive timing; Temporal expectations; Time perception; Working memory.