The cognitive impairment in individuals with schizophrenia includes deficits of working memory in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and deficits of performance monitoring in medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC). Recent work suggests a more general role for MPFC in predicting the outcome of actions and then evaluating those predictions. Here we investigate, in individuals with schizophrenia, two specific effects associated with this role: the error likelihood effect (occurring on trials with correct performance, but features that predict a high probability of errors), and the error unexpectedness effect (occurring on trials with an error, but features that predict errors are of low probability). In a rapid event-related fMRI design with a modified version of the change-signal task, a cue incidentally predicting error likelihood was encoded into working memory by participants in order to perform a secondary delayed match-to-sample task. There were four key findings: 1) individuals with schizophrenia exhibited poorer working memory performance and reduced error signals in MPFC; 2) even in control and schizophrenia subgroups matched on working memory performance, the schizophrenia subgroup showed a deficit in error-likelihood prediction in MPFC at the time of the predictive cue; 3) the schizophrenia subgroup also showed a deficit in evaluative error-unexpectedness activity when errors were committed; and 4) a mediation analysis indicated that error-likelihood predictions successfully explained error-unexpectedness evaluations in both controls and patients. Collectively, these findings suggest that individuals with schizophrenia have a disturbance in the evaluation of outcomes that is the result of a primary deficit in the prediction of error likelihood in MPFC.
Keywords: fMRI, schizophrenia, medial prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, error-likelihood, performance monitoring