Individuals with schizophrenia are impaired in a broad range of cognitive functions, including impairments in the controlled maintenance of context-relevant information. In this study, we used ERPs in human subjects to examine whether impairments in the controlled maintenance of spoken discourse context in schizophrenia lead to overreliance on local associations among the meanings of individual words. Healthy controls (n=22) and patients (n=22) listened to short stories in whichwemanipulated global discourse congruence and local priming. The target word in the last sentence of each story was globally congruent or incongruent and locally associated or unassociated. ERP local association effects did not significantly differ between control participants and schizophrenia patients. However, in contrast to controls, patients only showed effects of discourse congruence when targets were primed by a word in the local context. When patients had to use discourse context in the absence of local priming, they showed impaired brain responses to the target. Our findings indicate that schizophrenia patients are impaired during discourse comprehension when demands on controlled maintenance of context are high. We further found that ERP measures of increased reliance on local priming predicted reduced social functioning, suggesting that alterations in the neural mechanisms underlying discourse comprehension have functional consequences in the illness.
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