Failure of attention focus and cognitive control in schizophrenia patients with auditory verbal hallucinations: Evidence from dichotic listening

Research Area: Research Year: 2013
Type of Publication: Article Keywords: Auditory hallucinations; Schizophrenia; Dichotic listening; Attention; Executive function; Cognitive control
Authors: Hugdahl, Kenneth; Nygård, Merethe; Falkenberg, Liv Eggset; Kompus, Kristiina; Westerhausen, Rene; Kroken, Rune; Johnsen, Erik; Løberg, Else-Marie
Auditory verbal hallucinations (AVHs) are speech perceptions that lack an external source, phenomenologically experienced as “hearing voices”. A perceptual origin of an AVH experience in patients with schizophrenia can however not explain why the “voices” drain the attentional and cognitive capacity of the patients, making them unable to direct attention away from the “voices” and to cognitively suppress the experience. We recently reported how AVHs interfere with the perception of speech sounds, using a dichotic listening experimental paradigm. We now extend this finding by reporting on the interference caused by AVHs on attention and cognitive control, using a slight variation of the same dichotic listening paradigm. The patients (N = 148) were instructed to pay attention to and report from either the right or left ear syllable of the dichotic pair. We then correlated their PANSS score for the hallucination item (P3) with the performance score on the dichotic listening task. The results showed that AVHs interfered with the ability to report the right ear syllable when instructed to pay attention to the right side, which is a marker of inability to attend to an external speech stimulus. When instructed to pay attention to the left side, AVHs interfered with the ability to report the left ear syllable, which is a marker of inability to use cognitive control to suppress attending to the “voices”. The corresponding correlations for the emotional withdrawal (N2) negative symptom were all non-significant. The correlations were substantiated in an ANOVA with corresponding significant group differences between high versus low symptom score groups. The results thus extend our previous findings of a perceptual origination for AVHs by showing that AVHs interfere with the ability to attend to the outer world around the patient, and the ability to inhibit, or suppress, the “voices” once they occur. Future research should pin down the neuronal basis of both the origination and the attentional and cognitive control aspects of AVHs.
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