Abnormal prefrontal functioning plays a central role in the working memory (WM) deficits of schizophrenic patients, but the nature of the relationship between WM and prefrontal activation remains undetermined. Using two functional neuroimaging methods, we investigated the neural correlates of remembering and forgetting in schizophrenic and healthy participants. We focused on the brain activation during WM maintenance phase with event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We also examined oxygenated hemoglobin changes in relation to memory performance with the near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) using the same spatial WM task. Distinct types of correct and error trials were segregated for analysis. fMRI data indicated that prefrontal activation was increased during WM maintenance on correct trials in both schizophrenic and healthy subjects. However, a significant difference was observed in the functional asymmetry of frontal activation pattern. Healthy subjects showed increased activation in the right frontal, temporal and cingulate regions. Schizophrenic patients showed greater activation compared with control subjects in left frontal, temporal and parietal regions as well as in right frontal regions. We also observed increased 'false memory' errors in schizophrenic patients, associated with increased prefrontal activation and resembling the activation pattern observed on the correct trials. NIRS data replicated the fMRI results. Thus, increased frontal activity was correlated with the accuracy of WM in both healthy control and schizophrenic participants. The major difference between the two groups concerned functional asymmetry; healthy subjects recruited right frontal regions during spatial WM maintenance whereas schizophrenic subjects recruited a wider network in both hemispheres to achieve the same level of memory performance. Increased "false memory" errors and accompanying bilateral prefrontal activation in schizophrenia suggest that the etiology of memory errors must be considered when comparing group performances. Finally, the concordance of fMRI and NIRS data supports NIRS as an alternative functional neuroimaging method for psychiatric research.