Aim: Deficits in working memory are considered a core feature of schizophrenia and are present early in the course of the illness. Because working memory continues to mature through childhood and into early adulthood, it was the aim of this study to assess developmental trajectories of verbal and visuospatial working memory performance in children and adolescents with schizophrenia. Differences in the developmental trajectories in patients compared with controls may reflect differential effects within specific neural networks involved in working memory performance.
Methods: Twenty-six children and adolescents with schizophrenia (age range of 8–19 years) and 37 controls matched on age and gender participated in the study. Modified versions of both a verbal and visuospatial Sternberg Item Recognition Paradigm were administered.
Results: In the three age groups studied, patients performed significantly worse than controls on the verbal working memory tasks. There were significant effects of diagnosis and load on the verbal Sternberg, with patients performing worse than controls. However, there was no diagnosis by load interactions. Similar findings were present for the visuospatial Sternberg, except for the youngest age group. The 8- to 12-year-old patients had a disproportionately lower performance on the verbal working memory task than on the visuospatial task.
Conclusions: Our findings support disruptions in shared verbal and visuospatial working memory networks, such as those supporting encoding processes, in children and adolescents with schizophrenia. We also found specific deficits in non-shared verbal working memory performance in childhood-onset schizophrenia.