BACKGROUND - Humans constantly take in vast amounts of information, which must be filtered, flexibly manipulated, and integrated into cohesive relational memories in order to choose relevant behaviors. Relational memory is impaired in chronic schizophrenia, which has been linked to hippocampal dysfunction. It is unclear whether relational memory is impaired in the early stage of psychosis.
METHODS - We studied eye movements during a face-scene pairs task as an indirect measure of relational memory in 89 patients in the early stage of psychosis and 84 healthy control participants. During testing, scenes were overlaid with three equally-familiar faces and participants were asked to recall the matching (i.e. previously-paired) face. During Match trials, one face had been previously paired with the scene. During Non-Match trials, no faces matched the scene. Forced-choice explicit recognition was recorded as a direct measure of relational memory.
RESULTS - Healthy control subjects rapidly (within 250-500 ms) showed preferential viewing of the matching face during Match trials. In contrast, preferential viewing was delayed in patients in the early stage of psychosis. Explicit recognition of the matching face was also impaired in the patient group.
CONCLUSIONS - This study provides novel evidence for a relational memory deficit in the early stage of psychosis. Patients showed deficits in both explicit recognition as well as abnormal eye-movement patterns during memory recall. Eye movements provide a promising avenue for the study of relational memory in psychosis, as they allow for the assessment of rapid, nonverbal memory processes.
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