The characteristics of the spread of semantic activation in associative networks in normal subjects, thought-disordered (TD) and nonthought-disordered (NTD) schizophrenic patients with respect to time and semantic distance are examined. Direct and indirect semantic priming effects at two stimulus onset asynchronies (SOA) in a lexical decision task reveal that semantic associations spread further and faster in TD schizophrenic patients than in normal controls and in NTD schizophrenic patients. From a methodological point of view, indirect semantic priming at short prime-target intervals appears to be the best indicator of associative network dysfunction. The findings are discussed within the framework of current research on the effect of dopamine on the signal-to-noise ratio in cortical neural networks. Data suggest that semantic associative memory operates at a comparatively lower signal-to-noise ratio in thought-disordered schizophrenic patients.