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Referent communication disturbances in acute schizophrenia

By Bertram D. Cohen

Abstract

To test several alternative models of verbal communication in schizophrenia, 24 schizophrenic and 24 normal speakers were shown sets of colors varying in similarity and number of colors displayed. The task was to describe a designated color in each set so that a listener could pick it out. Disturbances in schizophrenic speakers were shown to occur whenever the task demanded that they edit out nondiscriminating descriptions. Thus, for highly dissimilar sets where the self-editing demands are minimal, the communication accuracy, reaction time, and utterance length of schizophrenics and normals were indistinguishable. But with increasing intraset similarity the schizophrenics ' communication accuracy dropped below the normals, while their reaction time and utterance length rose more sharply. Qualitative and quantitative features of disturbed schizophrenic communication were described in terms of a perseverative-chaining model of speaker behavior in schizophrenia. Schizophrenic speech is typically competent when viewed from a phonological or a syntactical standpoint; yet listeners often find the patient's referents frustratingly elusive: "He seems to be speaking ordinary English, but I can't tell what in the world he's driving at. " Cohen and Camhi (1967) reported an experiment in which referent communication by normal speakers and listeners was compared with that of schizophrenic patients. The schizophrenics were found to be deficient as speakers but comparable to normals as listeners. The findings were interpreted as evidence of a deficit, not in the repertoire of referent-response associations or meanings from which speakers select their utterances but rather in a selfediting function (Rosenberg & Cohen, 1966) that screens out the less effective referent descriptions in the speaker's repertoire before they are emitted

Year: 1974
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