Mental Health

September 10, 2019

Relational memory in early psychosis

Studies of relational memory function may reveal novel mechanisms for therapeutic intervention for patients in the early stages of psychosis.

Relational memory — the ability to form contextual relationships between individual items — is impaired in chronic schizophrenia and has been linked to hippocampal dysfunction. Whether relational memory impairment exists in early-stage psychosis and progresses with disease is unclear.

Suzanne Avery, PhD, and colleagues studied eye movements as an implicit measure of relational memory in early-stage psychosis patients and healthy counterparts. Participants viewed face-scene pairs and were instructed to remember which face was paired with each background scene. Participants were then shown background scenes with three faces overlaid and asked to identify which face was previously paired by focusing their eyes on the matching face.

Reported in Schizophrenia Research, the findings revealed healthy controls were more accurate in identifying previously seen pairs and rejecting unseen pairings. Preferential viewing of the matching face took longer in early psychosis patients and never reached the same magnitude as in healthy control subjects.

The results indicate a partial but not complete deficit of relational memory in early psychosis patients.

This research was supported by the Charlotte and Donald Test Fund, the National Institute of Mental Health (grant MH70560), the Vanderbilt Psychiatric Genotype/Phenotype Project and the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research.