Failures in top-down control in schizophrenia revealed by patterns of saccadic eye movements.

Successful execution of many behavioral goals relies on well-organized patterns of saccadic eye movements, and in complex tasks, these patterns can reveal the component processes underlying task performance. The present study examined the pattern of eye movements in a visual search task to provide evidence of attentional control impairments in people with schizophrenia (PSZ). We tested PSZ(N = 38) and nonpsychiatric control subjects (NCS, N = 35) in a task that was designed to stress top-down control by pitting task goals against bottom-up salience. Participants searched for either a low-contrast (nonsalient) or a high-contrast (salient) target among low- and high-contrast distractors. By examining fixations of the low- and high-contrast items, we evaluated the ability of PSZ and NCS to focus on low-salience targets and filter out high-salience distractors (or vice versa). When participants searched for a salient target, both groups successfully focused on relevant, high-contrast stimuli and filtered out target-mismatched, low-contrast stimuli. However, when searching for a nonsalient target, PSZ were impaired at efficiently suppressing high-contrast (salient) distractors. Specifically, PSZ were more likely than NCS to fixate and revisit salient distractors, and they dwelled on these items longer than did NCS. The results provide direct evidence that PSZ are impaired in their ability to utilize top-down goals to overcome the prepotent tendency to focus attention on irrelevant but highly salient information. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)