Attenuation of perceptual asymmetries in patients with early-onset schizophrenia: evidence in favour of reduced hemispheric differentiation in schizophrenia?
Bellgrove MA., Collinson S., Mattingley JB., Pantelis C., Fitzgerald PB., James AC., Bradshaw JL.
Lateral biases in visual perception have been demonstrated in normal individuals and in patients with unilateral brain lesions. It has been suggested that the absence of structural and functional asymmetries in schizophrenia could be due to a failure in lateralisation that may be most pronounced in those patients whose illness onset is at an early age. Here we examined lateral biases in patients with schizophrenia of an early onset (N = 21) and a late onset (N = 19), and their respective age-matched control groups, using the greyscales task, a sensitive measure of asymmetries in visual processing. The stimuli consisted of two rectangles, one above the other, shaded in opposite directions and matched overall for darkness. Participants judged which of the two rectangles looked darker overall. Previous studies using this task in healthy participants have reported a reliable bias, such that the rectangle with the darker end on the left is selected preferentially. Whereas the late-onset patients in this study exhibited a perceptual bias of similar direction and magnitude to that of controls, this was not the case for the early-onset patients, who exhibited significantly less bias than their control group. The reduced perceptual bias seen in the early-onset group, but not the late-onset group, suggests an attenuation of right hemisphere mechanisms dedicated to processing visuospatial information. The attenuated perceptual asymmetry in the early-onset group only may be consistent with the view that (i) an earlier illness onset reflects a greater loss of hemispheric differentiation and (ii) reduced functional asymmetries in the early-onset group are a manifestation of a failure to allocate functions to one or the other hemisphere.