This study examined whether the combination of patients' neurocognitive deficits and criticism by others would predict the emergence of patients' unusual thinking during stressful family transactions.
When clinically stable, 41 patients with recent-onset schizophrenia completed 2 versions of a visual vigilance task, the Continuous Performance Test (CPT). One CPT emphasized early perceptual processing, while the other stressed immediate, working memory. On a separate occasion, patients and family members participated in a 20-minute interaction in which the number of relatives' criticisms and patients' unusual thoughts was assessed.
In a hierarchical regression model, after entering performance on the CPT demanding immediate, working memory, and the number of criticisms by family members, the interaction of CPT performance and criticism significantly predicted the number of patients' unusual thoughts during the family session (r2 change = 0.09; P = .03). Post hoc analyses revealed that the number of criticisms and odd thoughts correlated significantly (r = 0.59, P = .03) for patients who had poor memory-load CPT performance, but were unrelated (r = −0.07) for patients who did well on the memory-load CPT. The CPT emphasizing early visual processing, either alone or in combination with interpersonal criticism, did not predict the number of patients' unusual thoughts during the interaction.
The results suggest that the combination of patients' working memory deficits and interpersonal criticism jointly predicts psychotic thinking, consistent with a model of schizophrenia that emphasizes the interaction of neurocognitive vulnerability and psychosocial stress factors.