Emotion-Cognition Interaction in Schizophrenia: Effects of Emotional Interference on Working Memory

Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2011

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Schizophrenia is a severe neuropsychiatric illness with dysfunction across a heterogeneous set of domains, including cognitive deficits and emotional functioning. A cardinal deficit is the ability to represent, maintain and manipulate information in mind – an operation broadly labeled as working memory (WM). There is also substantial evidence that emotional abnormalities are a major clinical concern in this illness, but a more complete understanding of basic emotional processing and the impact of emotion on cognition in schizophrenia is still lacking. To date, no study has systematically investigated the effects of affective distraction both during minimal cognitive load and during ongoing WM using objective measures of behavior, subjective emotional responses, along with whole-brain task-based functional neuroimaging (fMRI).

Twenty-eight patients with schizophrenia and 24 matched controls underwent behavioral and fMRI data collection at 3Tesla while performing a simple perceptual amygdala activation. However, even in the absence of clear behavioral or activation differences, patients with schizophrenia demonstrated significantly weaker prefrontal amygdala functional coupling, specifically following negative distraction. During WM, patients were distracted irrespective of distracter, whereas controls showed a clear effect of negative distraction. Despite no behavioral effect of emotion in patients, there was little evidence for abnormal cortical or subcortical responsiveness to negative distraction. However, specifically when distracted, patients showed activation abnormalities to emotionally non-salient distraction across a set of posterior cortical areas.

Present findings suggest that, while “in-the-moment” perception and brain responses to aversive emotion during minimal cognitive load may be intact, patients still exhibited abnormalities in amygdala-prefrontal coupling. Such connectivity abnormalities may underlie disturbances in patients’ ability to utilize affective inputs for guiding higher-level behavior such as social interactions. On the other hand, behavioral and fMRI WM results point to a general deficit in filtering distraction, which may favor aberrant salience processing as a pathophysiological mechanism in schizophrenia.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Deanna M. Barch

Committee Members

Todd S. Braver, Steven E. Petersen, Gordon L. Shulman, Mitchell S. Sommers, David C. Van Essen


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K7Z60M0F

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