We examined the relationship of formal thought disorder to immediate memory, verbal learning memory, and social perception in a study of 16 young adult male schizophrenia patients. Formal thought disorder was measured using the Bizarre-Idiosyncratic Thinking scale (Marengo et al., 1986). We examined immediate working memory (Digit Span Distractibility Test; DSDT), verbal learning memory (California Verbal Learning Test; CVLT), and perception of situationally relevant social features (Situational Feature Recognition Test; SFRT). These three measures were chosen to help identify the most related neuropsychological functions of thought disorder—distractibility during verbal processing, impaired verbal learning, or impaired perception of socially appropriate behavior. Formal thought disorder was associated with greater distractibility on the DSDT, slower list learning on the CVLT, and worse recognition of proper social rules and actions on the SFRT. These tasks may be laboratory analogues of the difficulty experienced by schizophrenia patients in identifying their own verbalizations as the most salient while filtering out irrelevant thoughts intruding into consciousness, which in turn leads to inappropriate word choices in speech. These preliminary findings are consistent with the view that formal thought disorder is associated with underlying neurocognitive impairment.
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