Patients suffering from schizophrenia have been characterized by an apparent lack of theta (around 6 Hz) and gamma (>40 Hz) brain oscillatory activity during task execution. The neurocognitive reasons for these abnormal synchronization patterns, however, remain elusive. Recording the electroencephalogramm (EEG) during a selective visual attention task, the current study investigates whether abnormal brain oscillatory resting-state activity in the theta band might account for a lack of task-related brain oscillatory activity in schizophrenia. EEGs were recorded from 26 patients with schizophrenia and 26 healthy matched controls during rest and during the execution of a selective visual attention task, in which an unexpected object (monkey) appeared on the screen. On a behavioral level, patients were less likely to report perceiving the unexpected event than controls. Controls showed a stronger increase in task-related theta power than patients in prefrontal, parietal, and occipital brain regions. Task-related theta power change differed between patients who perceived, and patients who did not perceive the unexpected event. Moreover, patients showed higher levels of theta power during rest than controls, whereas the absolute theta power values during the selective attention task did not differ between groups. These results suggest that the failure to increase oscillatory activity during a cognitive task can be accounted for by abnormally high oscillatory activity in a resting state. This finding has important implications for future studies examining abnormal brain oscillatory activity in schizophrenia, which usually treat resting-state activity as a baseline for task-related activity. Hum Brain Mapp 34:2266–2275, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.